Beef summit overlooks short term issues

Wednesday, 2 July, 2014

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that NI’s beef farmers won’t be happy after Defra’s recent beef summit merely glossed over the immediate issue of farm gate beef prices in favour of discussing more medium to longer term issues such as: a potential voluntary code of conduct between farmers and processors, better promotion of Red Tractor by retailers; and investigating further export opportunities for UK beef.

UFU deputy president Barclay Bell, who attended the summit, said; “There were a number of important issues to cover at the meeting but given the immediate situation facing beef farmers you would have thought farm gate prices would have been top of the agenda and discussed in detail. It was frustrating and it felt like no one was really considering the reality of how the current situation is affecting beef farmers on the ground.

“Farmers understand how the supply chain works. We understand that processors and retailers are running a business and trying to make a profit. But so are farmers and they cannot continue to be the ones who’s profit margins are always squeezed. For the beef industry in Northern Ireland to be sustainable, farmers must be profitable. Obviously we need to be thinking about the medium and long term solutions but this is little comfort to beef farmers now as they continue to receive prices at an unsustainably low level.

“In the long term, the development of a voluntary code of practice is a necessary step towards more transparency and better communication between processors and farmers, something the Union has been calling for. At the meeting, retailers were receptive to our calls for the clear, unambiguous and accurate promotion of UK beef and we expect to see them actively promoting Red Tractor-assured UK beef in the immediate future.  Also, the exploration of export markets for UK beef will be an important as we look to secure the future of the beef industry.

“Closer to home, at the recent NI Assembly Agriculture Committee meeting, NI Agriculture Michelle O’Neill pledged her support for NI’s beef industry when she told the committee she was making it her main priority to find solutions to the beef crisis. The Union has welcomed this commitment and believes that in particular Northern Ireland should be following the lead of ROI and Scotland with the introduction of a beef efficiency payment through the Rural Development Programme.”

The Union has written to the Minister O’Neill and requested a meeting to discuss this important issue in more detail.