The right Brexit deal could lead to an expansion of the beef and sheep sectors in Northern Ireland, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission’s chief executive Ian Stevenson.
“Local redmeat processors may well have the opportunity to supply more meat to GB supermarkets post-Brexit, given the fact that the UK is far from self-sufficient in beef,” he said.
“But this only accounts for a part of the total carcass. We would also need to secure new export markets in countries such as China and the Philippines, in order to maximise the value of the entire animal, the fifth quarter being a case in point.
“But if these new outlets could be secured, then the opportunity to physically expand the size of our cattle and sheep industries could become reality.”
Mr Stevenson added: “We have the available land to allow us to carry larger numbers of livestock. Improved grassland management and utilisation practises would also make the expansion of Northern Ireland’s cattle and sheep sectors an extremely attainable target.”
National Sheep Association regional development officer Edward Adamson agrees. He believes that the sheep sector in Northern Ireland can look forward to a profitable future, provided flockowners commit to improving the efficiency of their businesses.
“It’s all about making best use of grazed grass,” he said. “And, in this regard, we can learn from other sectors.
“Rotational grazing systems are now the norm within the dairy industry and sheep farmers must follow this example. Yes, this approach will require an investment in better fencing, grass re-seeding and improved soil fertility. But the pay-off, in terms of securing higher growth rates from our cheapest feed source will be tangible.
“Improving ewe fertility and lamb growth rates are other priorities for the sheep sector as a whole. These objectives can be achieved on the back of a greater commitment to flock recording.”
Mr Adamson believes that Brexit can open up opportunities for the sheep industry, particularly in Northern Ireland.
“The current weakness of Sterling against the Euro is helping to boost lamb prices,” he said.
“But currency exchange rates are extremely volatile. However, the UK is far from self-sufficient in sheepmeat. So there should be opportunities for producers in Northern Ireland to fill this gap.”
Adamson is also conscious that the output from the sheep industry in Northern Ireland is extremely seasonal in nature.
“This reflects the grass-based nature of the sector,” he explained.
“Finding ways to store sheepmeat during periods of surplus would help to deliver sustainable returns for the industry the year round.
“Securing access to new export markets, particularly China and other countries in South East Asia is also important. This would help secure a better return on every sheep carcase that is processed.”