Ahead of the NBA Beef Expo in Dungannon Livestock mart on Monday 26th February, the Ulster Farmers’ Union outlines its policy priorities for beef producers.
The UFU invites you to come along. Talk to us at Stand 18 at the Expo.
Sustainable Beef Prices
Viable beef prices are crucial to sustain a strong beef industry in Northern Ireland. We regularly meet with retailers to impress that farmers need a fairer return from the market and the need for consultation, justification and long term notice where specifications are to be changed. To help reduce volatility in the market the Union is engaged with UK retailers in the development of contracts, giving farmers an optional choice to lock into a longer term price. Promotion of UK produce is essential for stimulating demand for beef and supporting prices.
We are supportive of developing a new food marketing body and we also wish to see mandatory requirements built into public procurement so that government has to source UK beef.
Best possible access to the EU and minimising disruptions to existing trade between NI and RoI is essential post Brexit. The Union is also keen to see the UK prioritise access to new markets outside the EU providing greater opportunities to add value to the carcase. Imports to the UK must also be highly regulated and produced to equivalent standards. The threat of cheap imports is clearly highlighted by the ongoing EU-Mercosur trade negotiations which the Union continues to raise concerns about. Labelling laws should be strengthened to offer clearer transparency to consumers and clamp down on food fraud.
We are strongly opposed to any post Brexit proposals to ban or restrict live exports. The live trade must be maintained to encourage competition for livestock and ensure that farmers have access to the best paying market. The Union is also in favour of lifting restrictions which prevent herds closed due to TB, from exporting cattle live, to slaughter in Great Britain. We believe this would help address the NI-GB price differential.
Post Brexit support schemes for farmers must be well funded. Agriculture policy must focus on both food production and the environment. Regulation must also be fair and proportionate. Targeted support will be required for both cattle and sheep and this should be linked to enhancing genetics and animal health and welfare. Hill areas will require support to help assist with their natural disadvantages. A cultural and landscape grazing scheme should be in place to reflect the important role livestock play in conserving the rural environment. New taxation measures should be introduced to encourage long term land tenure, succession and investment in farm businesses. Farm productivity can also be enhanced through a new suite of capital grant schemes.
We recently submitted a response to DAERA’s TB consultation. We have argued that wildlife intervention must be an essential control for tackling TB. The Union is opposed to farmers paying for an annual test and/or compensation cuts, however in line with farmer funding contributions in RoI, England and New Zealand the Union has proposed a levy which could be controlled by industry and used specifically for wildlife intervention. This would ensure farmers get best value for money. The Union also wants to see more practical TB controls on farm and better communication between DAERA and producers. Alternative control herds should also be encouraged to become more attractive to beef finishers and enable the direct movement of cattle from closed herds to a licensed finishing unit.
In response to concerns from membership about the retention of PI’s on a small number of farms, the Union has agreed that BVD controls need strengthened to speed up the eradication process. The UFU wants to see herd restrictions introduced by DAERA for herds retaining PI’s; however this is not possible without a government in place. As an alternative, the Union has approached local processors about banning PI cattle from the food chain. This proposal is broadly supported by the industry and will be implemented from the 1st May 2018. We would also be keen to see the BVD PI removal scheme re-introduced if a suitable funding stream can be found.
Carcase Classification and Price Reporting
The UFU is supportive of research and industry discussion to analyse the alternative options that exist for carcase classification such as yield based grading or using meat quality indicators (tenderness, marbling etc). It is crucial that mandatory price reporting also continues, post Brexit. Price reporting mechanisms should be further developed to help farmers understand the true value of the carcase within the supply chain. This would increase transparency and improve confidence in the supply chain. We are also in favour of increased checks on abattoir grading and trimming practises by DAERA to ensure that farmers receive fair value for their animals.
Livestock markets are an essential component in our industry. We have however made representations to the markets about displaying the name of the vendor at point of sale. This is currently available in RoI and GB and we believe this will improve transparency for buyers and mitigate against risks relating to traceability and residues. The Union has also asked the livestock markets to introduce six month warranties for store heifers to guarantee that they are not in calf.
Research & genomics
Research and development is fundamentally important to progressing the industry. The Union continues to lobby DAERA for investment in new beef facilities at AFBI and CAFRE. The Union is also actively involved with other industry organisations and DAERA to develop a livestock genomics programme for Northern Ireland. We believe this can be an important mechanism to enhance genetics in the national herd and the profitability of local farms.