Farmers are in distress over poor prices - Chesney

Sam Chesney
Sam Chesney

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has written to Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Julian Smith, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Permanent Secretary, Denis McMahon, and leading politicians, to stress the urgent need for improved farmgate prices.

UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said beef and sheep farmers are completely disillusioned with the ongoing situation in the marketplace.

He added: “The farm gate price for beef produced in Northern Ireland has continuously decreased since autumn 2018 while lamb has been taking a serious downward turn since spring 2019. The decline in prices has been aggravated by the prospect of the UK leaving the EU and has created a completely unsustainable situation for Northern Ireland’s farmers.

“How can they be expected to produce quality food when output costs are rising constantly and live off such belittling income? This is a matter of urgency; the future of Northern Ireland’s family farm structure is on the line and Government needs to address the issue before it’s too late.”

Chesney went on to point out that with a solution to avoiding a no-deal Brexit still to be found, this is causing distress for Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep farmers as they are unable to plan ahead due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

According to the Union, farmgate price for beef produced in Northern Ireland has dropped from 354p/kg to 330p/kg in the last 12 months. On a 380kg carcass, this is a loss of £91.20 per head. Meanwhile, variable costs incurred by farmers have strengthened considerably during the same period.

In addition, the farmgate price for local lamb has decreased from 399p/kg to 365p/kg from spring 2019, and continued to drop. These factors have been aggravated by the prospect of the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union (EU) and uncertainties linked to future UK customs tariffs.

The UFU also points out that, in contrast to the declining farm gate prices, the retail price for beef and lamb are increasing. These assertions are contained within a recent survey, published by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB). 
Chesney continued: “The current situation of Brexit isn’t helping matters. The no-deal tariff plans will drive down already squeezed farm gate prices even more and could put many beef and sheep farmers out of business.

“Our farmers are being plagued by the unknown, they can’t plan ahead in a marketplace that hasn’t got a fixed guaranteed price. Many are living in fear of where they will be after Brexit.

Chesney concluded: “In order to have a thriving, sustainable agri-food industry, everyone must profit. It doesn’t make sense that retail prices have risen and yet our farmers, who provide the vital foundation for beef and lamb products, are barely making ends meet.

“All we want is for beef and sheep farmers to get a fair and sustainable price, it’s the least they deserve. We hope that by writing a letter of concern to Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, DAERA Permanent Secretary and NI politicians, it will activate Government to help stabilise justifiable farm gate prices and play their part in ensuring that the future of family run farms is viable.”