‘NI beef industry is under threat’

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Falling beef prices are threatening the future of Northern Ireland’s family farm structure, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned.

The organisation has written to Guy Horsington, Deputy Director for Future Farming Policy at Defra, to outline the seriousness of the situation and make the Government aware that a package of financial support, similar to the one secured for beef farming in the Republic of Ireland (ROI), may be needed.

Union chiefs say beef farmers are frustrated by falling beef quotes and have become increasingly disillusioned with the current market.

UFU beef and lamb chairman, Sam Chesney, says in the last 12 months the farm gate price for beef has dropped almost 10 per cent from 377p/kg to 342p/kg for a U-3 steer. 

He added: “This continuous fall in price has been happening at a time when input costs have risen significantly and has put pressure on profit margins.

“Beef imports into Northern Ireland have also risen while there continues to be an abundance of local, high quality, farm quality assured red meat available.

“Undoubtedly, this has had an impact on price.”

“The current market situation is completely unsustainable for local producers and should cause alarm for everyone in the supply chain. Government must also take note as the current situation puts the future of Northern Ireland’s family farm structure at risk,” he said.

“Something needs to be done. The UK Government has a role to play in ensuring the future of family run farms is viable. Northern Ireland beef farmers have watched as the Irish Government secured emergency funding of up to €100 million to help beef farmers cope with market uncertainty caused by Brexit. Without a similar package here, the ROI intervention could potentially distort the UK and EU markets, putting even more pressure on already squeezed farm gate prices in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK,” said Mr Chesney.

The deputy president says the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal is further aggravating the situation.

He continued: “The beef sector continues to be plagued by Brexit uncertainties and it is damaging our industry. There is a lack of clarity around our future trading relationship and tariff schedule with the EU post-Brexit, and that is putting enormous pressure on farmers, their families, and their businesses. Without certainty, it is very difficult for a farm business to forward plan.”

The UFU says it continues to monitor the situation and discussions are ongoing between the UK farming unions and the UFU’s internal policy committee structure.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Farmers For Action say they are ‘furious’ about the inaction of Westminster and Stormont’s neglect of farm gate prices with beef being a clear case in point.

An FFA statement continued: “While Westminster has been paralyzed with Brexit and now the Tory leadership election and Stormont in deep freeze to date, Brussels has seen to it that Southern Ireland is receiving €50million to help the beef industry with the Southern Government matching this with another €50million, albeit strings attached!”

FFA’s Sean McAuley claimed that Southern Ireland statistics have indicated that their beef farmers are on average on €44,000 of debt and rising, a figure which no doubt will resonate with many beef farmers in Northern Ireland as they continue to haemorrhage money due to falling beef prices.

Sean continued: “It is good to see the Scottish Minister bound for a meeting with Michael Gove on Monday to put the case, ‘Look what Southern Ireland are doing for beef farmers, what are you going to do?’ FFA would back his stance fully in that the current situation cannot continue without Stormont sitting to allow NI Farm Groups to take the bill forward for legislation on farm gate prices. Over to you Mr Gove, let’s see what you are made of!”