The Ulster Farmers’ Union has called for a drive to promote the quality of beef from suckler herds.
Beef and lamb chairman, Sam Chesney, says that with both upland and lowland suckler herds struggling to break even, the image of this beef must to be promoted to boost returns.
“Northern Ireland beef is sold on the back of the suckler image of hearty looking cattle, grazing lush green fields. However, suckler farmers don’t gain when it comes to this marketing. The quality of their beef is second to none and producers should be paid accordingly,” said Mr Chesney.
The UFU says current costs of producing suckler beef are up to £5 a kilo – far in excess of what the market is returning. It underlines that this enterprise is important to the structure of farming and as part of the image of quality beef production in Northern Ireland. It says that if lack of profitability continues the enterprise could disappear, despite the environmental gains it brings to the countryside.
“The extensive nature of grass based suckler farming brings multiple benefits. Grass fed suckler herds help to manage many habitats and produce a quality product from land that is unable to produce other crops. Grassland is also important for carbon sequestration. All this needs to be rewarded with support and from people paying a justified premium for a quality product.
“I believe that if the beef from these herds is promoted properly, people will recognise why it is worth paying for provenance and quality,” said Mr Chesney.
The UFU says processors and marketing organisations, such as the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and Invest NI, need to do more to recognise the importance of this sector and the threat it is under if steps are not taken to improve profitability. “As an industry we need to ask whether we want a suckler industry. If we do, then we must come up with radical ideas to encourage consumers to recognise what it offers and to improve the depressing profitability statistics,” said Mr Chesney.