Stormont Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Joe Byrne MLA has welcomed the recently announced CAP agreement, which he believes will deliver fair and equitable Pillar 1 support payments for every farmer in Northern Ireland.

He added:“The steps taken by the Stormont Executive will allow producers to plan for the future with a large degree of certainty. Specifically, the new Rural Development Programme will allow farmers to invest in their businesses. I want to see the development of a profitable farming industry, across all sectors. And the new Farm Business Improvement Scheme should allow this to become reality.”

But the SDLP agriculture spokesman is also aware of the major challenges facing the beef industry at the present time. He confirmed that Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill had recently met representative of the marts with Agriculture Committee Chairman Paul Frew and himself in attendance.

“The marts play a crucial role in providing open competition for stock within the marketplace,” Joe Byrne stressed.

“And it is the responsibility of the Farm Minister to ensure that they continue to provide this service within all our rural communities. Michelle O’Neill must also prioritise the problems facing the beef industry at the present time. In the first instance, she must meet all of the relevant stakeholder groups – including the marts – to find out how best these challenges can be addressed.

The Omagh-based MLA also believes that the Livestock and meat Commission should be playing a far stronger role in clarifying the relationship between the meat plants and the supermarkets.

“Retail beef prices have risen over the past 12 months, yet the prices paid to farmers have slumped. The question which farmers want an answer to is a very simple one: where is all this money going? The LMC must be more proactive in demanding information from the factories. At the end of the day the Commission is funded by a farmer levy. So the onus is on the organisation to play its role in developing a sustainable future for beef production here in Northern Ireland.”