The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says Northern Ireland’s beef farmers have lost over £27.5 million in income as a result of a “perfect storm” of challenges in the last nine months and it is calling on the UK government to “step up” and back the industry with financial support.
UFU beef and lamb chairman, Sam Chesney, added: “The beef market has been in a steady decline over the last nine months with export and domestic markets under pressure. Coupled with a drop in the value of sterling, a reduction in consumption, Brexit uncertainty, and the food service sector sourcing more red meat from third countries beef farmers are facing a perfect storm of challenges.
“It would be a different story if we were dealing with just one of these, but this combined onslaught is hammering incomes.
“Farmers are losing up to £200 per head, which is totally unsustainable. It is now at a point where some are seriously considering the future viability of their family run businesses. The financial loss to these businesses has wider consequences for Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry and economy. Ultimately, it means reduced availability of the high, quality, world-class beef we are known for and is demanded by consumers.”
“It also means farm businesses have less money to spend in rural communities, impacting other rural businesses such as feed merchants and other farm suppliers.”
The UFU believes the actual financial loss on farms is likely higher, as the £27.5 million does not factor in rising production costs.
Chesney added: “The government should be under no illusions. Our industry is suffering and we are at a tipping point, which may be impossible to fully recover from. The UK government must step in and provide financial support to help beef farmers to ensure the future viability of this crucial industry.”
According to the UFU, farmers in the Republic of Ireland have been awarded a financial aid package of €100 million to help cope with the impact of Brexit. The union says this package is likely to distort beef trade on the island of Ireland if farmers in Northern Ireland do not receive something similar. It has proposed that the government should introduce a variable, livestock slaughter premium based on the true cost of production. According to the UFU this is around £4.37p/kg for a U-3 steer/heifer.
Chesney continued: “Earlier this year, the UFU wrote to Guy Horsington, Deputy Director for Future Farming Policy at Defra, to outline the seriousness of the situation. The government is aware that a package of financial support, similar to the one secured for beef farming in the Republic of Ireland, will be required for Northern Ireland’s beef producers.
“Since then we have also outlined the problem to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; the DAERA permanent secretary and the five main political parties. We have held a number of meetings with industry partners and the other UK farming unions. Concerns around the beef industry are widely recognised and now is the time for the UK government to show its support for NI beef farmers.”
The UFU is also pointing out that, in addition to financial support, local councils and other government institutions can show their support for the NI beef industry by ensuring Farm Quality Assured product is fully utilised in their procurement policies. Earlier this year, the four UK farming unions announced a collaborative five-point plan that would help to support beef trade across the UK.
Meanwhile, the National Beef Association (NBA) and Farmers For Action (FFA) have come together under the auspices of ‘Northern Ireland Farm Groups’ to host a ‘Beef Crisis’ meeting in the Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown on Tuesday, 1st October. Events get underway at 8pm. All farmers and farming organisations who are involved in any way with producing beef cattle are very welcome!
A spokesperson for the organisations hosting the event stated that most farming families in Northern Ireland are well aware of the relentless reduction in prices that has been paid for cattle across these islands over recent months.
The Cookstown meeting follows in the wake of the agreement reached between all the parties involved in the Republic of Ireland’s beef industry. This seeks to bring ‘immediate relief’ to producers who have found themselves in loss making situations, following the collapse in market prices.
Representatives of NI Farm Groups believe that many of the support measures introduced in the Republic of Ireland should also be implemented north of the border.
It has been confirmed that Farming Life’s Richard Halleron will chair the Cookstown meeting.