The Ulster Farmers’ Union have recently met with beef and sheep sector representatives to discuss issues facing the red meat industry.
As the beef and sheep sector remains Northern Ireland’s largest sector with an estimated turnover of £1.2billion each year the UFU outlined the need for continued support to maintain production of high quality livestock.
In a recent letter to the NI Assembly Agriculture Committee, UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson highlighted various issues facing the red meat industry.
He said: “There are currently in the region of 18,000 beef farms which support the provision of over 3000 local red meat processor jobs. This clearly shows the significant contribution that beef farms make to the wider economy.”
From the outset of the recent CAP reform discussions, the UFU identified that beef farmers were in a vulnerable position and that support mechanisms should be identified which can ensure that local beef farms remain viable into the future.
Ivor added: “The volatility in beef prices over the past 24 months has been difficult for all producers to manage and while UFU continue to talk to local processors about alternative payment mechanisms which can protect farmers from this unpredictable market, we believe government also has a duty of care to provide sufficient levels of support which reflect the significant contribution this industry makes to the economy.”
The UFU recognise the considerable commitment from the NI Executive to the new Rural Development Programme and in particular the funding which has been made available for the proposed Farm Business Improvement Scheme.
Mr Ferguson noted: “Many of the objectives identified within the Rural Development Programme are themes which have emerged in the ROI Beef Data and Genomics Scheme. Within Northern Ireland there is potential to give strong consideration for a similar scheme which looks to improve efficiency on local beef farms by using better genetics and improved animal health.”
With the Agri-food Strategy Board continuing to make progress through their genomics sub group Mr Ferguson feels a beef support scheme for Northern Ireland would ‘certainly go toward achieving targets for growth and development’.
“To have any significant impact on both farms and the local economy a sizeable funding commitment would be required to ensure that sufficient levels of payment are generated. This funding would need to match the levels of funding made accessible in our neighbouring regions of Scotland and the Republic of Ireland,” said Mr Ferguson.
The focus of the schemes in neighbouring regions has been to produce high quality animals which have at least three quarters of their genetics from beef origin breeds. Ivor added: “These payments are aimed at producing animals at the high end of market specifications which will return more value to the local economy.”
The UFU has also proactively contributed to discussions with DARD about the requirements for farmers within the proposed Rural Development Programme and from a livestock perspective has emphasised the importance of support which can improve the efficiency of the farm.
For some time now the margins achievable in beef production have been slight and this has made investment in improving the infrastructure of the farm difficult.