Beef and lamb prices must strengthen warns UFU

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has told beef processors they must pay more for cattle to stem mounting losses on farms.

Speaking after a farmer delegation met the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association (NIMEA) UFU president Ivor Ferguson said losses could not remain the norm.

He added that it was in processors’ interests to protect their supply chain by helping ensure beef farms were profitable businesses.

“Farmers are rightly frustrated and feel they are being taken advantage of as they receive a falling share of the retail value for their beef. Currently, U-3 prime cattle are back by 26p/kg against last year,” Ferguson said.

This translates into a loss of over £93 for a 360kg carcass. This is unsustainable, given how much feed and straw costs have risen.

The UFU also raised trade issues with NIMEA. The Republic of Ireland slaughtered over 50,000 additional animals in 2018, resulting in a 7% increase in supplies to the UK market.

The union explained that extra cattle imported for direct slaughter in Northern Ireland have also had an impact, creating a slaughter backlog for many farmers.

It also warned of the potential impact of retailers stockpiling beef for a hard Brexit, which could affect demand for fresh supplies if the risk of that happening eases.

Sheep prices

On sheep, the UFU raised concern that hogget prices had fallen over £1/kg on the same period last year and spring lambs were over £1.20/kg behind last year’s price.

It said a rise was justified coming into Ramadan, which boosts demand. However, it also raised concerns about the potential for imports of both beef and lamb after Brexit from non-EU countries producing red meat to different standards than UK producers and of the growing media focus on veganism, despite it accounting for a tiny share of the food market.

Ferguson said these and other issues were common challenges for local farmers and beef processors – but he stressed that the key issue for the UFU was achieving profitability for farmers by securing them a fairer share of the retail price of both beef and lamb.