Debate on food production is needed

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If redmeat prices had kept track with inflation over recent years, the producer price for beef now would be in the region of 520 pence per kilo deadweight. This last figure knocks for six the notion that food is expensive.

In reality all the staple food items are cheaper now, in real terms, than they were a generation ago. It’s also worth remembering that the amount of aid available to agriculture, courtesy of the Single Farm Payment, is reducing every year. There are no annual inflationary safeguards built into the system and who knows what will happen down the line, where modulation is concerned.

All of these statistics serve to highlight the need for our farming industry to get a strong and clear message across to consumers, highlighting the need for a proper and constructive debate on the way food is now produced. Farmers cannot be expected to work for nothing. And the reality is that Europe cannot expect to survive on the back of food imports.

There is a clear and strategic need for the maintenance of a strong indigenous farming industry in the EU. However, it’s a fact of life that the days of cheap food are over. Production costs have doubled on many farm s during the last 12 months alone. This development has not been reflected in the shops, which means that the producers are taking most of the pain. Retailers and consumers must, therefore, be reminded in the strongest possible terms that farmers can only take so much.

Livestock production has become an extremely serious business. Only those producers who endeavour to improve their levels of efficiency will survive. It really is a case of ensuring that farms can stand on their own two feet by optimising profit on the back of what the market can offer. And simply worrying about the price of store cattle just won’t cut it in this context!

But it’s not just beef farmers who will have to face the production challenges that lie ahead. Milk producers are in exactly the same boat.

Consider the facts: only 25% of dairy farmers in Northern Ireland milk record while benchmarking remains a service which too few producers have yet to avail of. Compare this with the situation prevailing in other countries around the world, where the accurate assessment of physical and financial performance is seen as the norm.

Local producers must be in a position to accurately identify the strengths and weaknesses of their own farm business when compared to farms of similar scale and production system. Only on this basis can they quantify their costs and their farm performance accurately. This, in turn, establishes a foundation from which the agricultural industry can build a more efficient and profitable future.

Based on the current Greenmount benchmarking data, farmers must target top 25% performance if they want to sustain a vibrant farming business. To do this agriculture has no option but to invest in its own future.