Changing times ahead for the beef industry

Barclay Bell, deputy president of the Ulster Farmers' Union. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Barclay Bell, deputy president of the Ulster Farmers' Union. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

The UK supermarkets will remain committed to the beef sector in Northern Ireland, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union president Barclay Bell.

“We have held a number of meetings with leading retailers over recent weeks,” he said.

“And they seem committed to pay top price for a quality product, provided it comes from beef cattle that have been reared and processed in the UK.

“This is a key advantage, which farmers in Northern Ireland enjoy, and it is one that we must build on for the future.”

The Union has not ruled out the possibility of the UK doing post-Brexit trade deals with the likes of Australia and New Zealand.

However, it is believed that strong working relationships with the likes of M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury would act as a bulwark for the local beef industry against cheap beef imports from these countries.

But the Union president made it clear that all is not well within the beef production and supply chain, across the board

“Fundamentally, it is not functioning properly at the present time,” he added.

“Farmers must receive a higher share of the revenues coming in at the retail end, and we need to see the means put in place which will allow beef producers to cope better with the challenges of volatility and Brexit.”

Bell made these comments while speaking at the recent beef conference, hosted by the Union and other livestock stakeholder groups at CAFRE Greenmount.

He continued: “Farmers must also be open to change. At a very basic level this means producers reviewing the management systems they have currently in place and tweaking them in accordance with changing market conditions.”

The Union president made it clear that retailers want consistency of beef supply, where quality is concerned.

“There is also growing pressure on consumers to eat less meat, from a health perspective,” he said.

“And this is a key challenge that must be factored in by the entire beef sector moving forward.

“But, fundamentally, livestock farmers must be in a position where they can earn a living from their enterprise and still enjoy a quality of life that is commensurate with the investment they will be expected to make.”