Suckler cows have a key role to play at the very heart of Northern Ireland’s livestock sector, according to National Beef Association (NBA) chief executive Chris Mallon.
“Suckler production is synonymous with high quality beef, which can be sold the world over,” he said.
“There is no reason why the size of the suckler herd in Northern Ireland cannot be increased. Quality beef will never overhang the market.
“There is a huge opportunity to export our very best beef to countries like China. In fact, exports can act as a key driver to maintain sustainable returns for suckler farmers.”
Mr Mallon was speaking at this week’s NBA ‘Northern Ireland Beef Expo’ event, held in Dungannon Mart.
He said that suckler production was a key driver for all rural economies.
“The calf she produces provides a living for the farmer. However, her output also underpins a beef processing sector. In addition, sucklers sustain all the supply industries that depend on the farming industry.
“All of this creates many thousand of jobs in rural communities.”
Looking to the future, Mallon believes that suckler herdowners must prepare for a future without the aid of direct payments.
“Providing for the public good is the direction of travel which the UK policy makers are going in at the present time.
“From an NBA perspective, we want to see support systems put in place that actually deliver a lasting legacy for the beef industry throughout the UK. Measures of this nature will also ensure that the needs of the beef industry are met, irrespective of which government is in power.
“Improving soil quality, grassland management standards and housing systems are all aspects of beef production that can be the focus of future support schemes.
“If measures of this nature are implemented, the long-term efficiency benefits to be accrued by farmers will be significant.
“Additional support to help eradicate diseases and improve animal health standards will also have the same effect.
“Simply offering enhanced headage payments will not improve the sustainability of the beef sector in the long run.”
Mallon continued: “Suckler cows deliver for the public good, courtesy of their grazing impact in both our hill and lowland areas. If they were not performing this role, our countryside would look take on the appearance of a bracken-infested wilderness.”
He concluded: “But delivering for the public good is one thing. The other fundamental principle which the UK government must not overlook is the fact that providing high quality food is every citizen’s right.”