UFU raise concerns over decline in suckler numbers

Friday, 30 August, 2019

The Ulster Farmers’ Union is deeply concerned regarding the continuous decline in suckler cow numbers and significant drop in suckler calf registrations.

Last week Livestock and Meat Commission’s (LMC) bulletin highlighted a decrease of almost 17,000 beef calves registered to suckler cows in January-July 2019, when compared to the same period in 2017. Suckler cow figures in Northern Ireland have dropped from 344,704 in 1998 to 255,904 in June 2018 highlighting the disturbing direction our vulnerable beef sector is heading.

Commenting in response to the publication, UFU deputy president David Brown said, “The impact of this decline in suckler numbers will have a huge knock on effect on the local NI economy, something which many people are failing to grasp. The NI beef and sheep meat sector is worth £1.3billion to the local economy and suckler beef has a huge part to play in generating this figure. As we have stressed many times before, beef farmers have their backs to the wall regarding market prices which are being aggravated by Brexit. This fall in suckler numbers represents the hardship our beef farmers are facing. They are making serious decisions regarding their farm businesses which is alarming for the future of the beef sector.”

In order to stabilise and sustain the suckler herd population, Mr Brown says that farmers need protected.

“The loss of the ANC payment will add further financial difficultly for our suckler farmers. Going forward they need support to keep them in business and to ensure the future of our NI beef sector. A future policy needs to be created to support the productivity and profitability of the sector."

Other agriculture sectors depend on the business they do with suckler farmers and the countryside also benefits from suckler herds which tend to graze on less favoured areas.

“The suckler herd is the backbone of the local NI beef industry which is vital to keep the agriculture industry as a whole thriving. Suckler farmers support other commodities, they buy grain from local suppliers and provide meat for processors, not to mention their contribution to feeding the UK population and how they support rural employment, sustaining and enhancing countryside communities.

“There is also the aspect of helping to maintain the countryside. The areas that suckler herds graze quite often can’t be used to grow crops. Suckler herds maintain our carbon sinks by consuming and converting grass helping us to tackle climate change. Whatever way you look at it, the decline in suckler numbers is going to have a severe impact not only on the beef sector, but the wider agriculture industry, rural communities and NI economy,” said Mr Brown.