The UFU Beef and Lamb committee met this week in Dungannon rugby club and on this occasion hosted the new LMC Board which was appointed in late 2015.
Farmers are significant financial contributors to the activities of the LMC (paying a statutory levy of £1 on every beef animal and 20 pence per sheep) and so the UFU was keen to find out where the LMC Board’s priorities would lie during their new term in office.
Geo-political disputes and exchange rates have been two factors which have had a heavy influence on commodity prices over the last 12 months and it was noted by the new chairman of the LMC Board, Gerard McGivern, that opening new markets was one of the main priorities for the Board going forward and that the LMC would continue to fund and participate in the UK Export Certification Partnership who are key in assisting with progress for new market access.
He went on to explain that the LMC has been an active participant of the Agri-food Strategy Board red meat sub-group and has invested significant funding in the proposed Agri-food Strategy Board livestock genomics programme along with other local research projects.
The Farm Quality Assurance Scheme continues to be a key marketing tool for the LMC and they argued that improving consumption of red meat is one of their key goals, whether that be through radio and TV advert campaigns, in store promotions or educating school kids.
The chairman also indicated that he understood the importance of the Northern Ireland-Great Britain price differential to farmers and that the LMC would be hosting a seminar on live exports shortly which could potentially assist with the seasonality of the Northern Ireland cattle trade.
The committee had a lengthy but constructive discussion with the LMC Board. UFU members were keen to impress that they are not satisfied with the Northern Ireland-Great Britain price differential which continues to exist for beef and lamb and that the LMC must look for solutions which can improve fairness in the market for local livestock farmers.
There was common agreement between the committee and the LMC Board on the importance of exports for Northern Ireland and that all stakeholders involved in the industry needed to work together to ensure that the UK Government prioritises new market access for Northern Ireland beef and lamb.
Members of the committee felt that promotion of red meat to increase consumption must continue to be a priority and that the LMC should strive to replicate the achievements of other food promotion bodies such as Bord Bia and Beef & Lamb New Zealand.
The committee did however highlight their concern that the LMC was not creative enough with their marketing and that they should look to local sports stars to help promote the values of Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured produce to consumers.
Overall there was a good exchange of views between the committee and the LMC Board, but it was highlighted by the Deputy President Ivor Ferguson that confidence was low amongst livestock farmers and that the LMC has a responsibility to strive for fairness and better value from the market for farmers.