Ulster Farmers’ Union President Ian Marshall led a delegation of UFU representatives this week to meet with the NI Assembly Agriculture and Rural Development committee in order to highlight the serious situation facing beef farmers and to stress that more needs to be done to secure the future of Northern Ireland’s beef industry.

Commenting after the meeting, UFU President Ian Marshall said; “Overall we had a very constructive meeting with the NI Assembly’s Agriculture Committee. We had a number of points we wanted to raise with them, including: the market situation as a whole; residencies; nomad cattle; the LMC protocol; the 2014-2020 NI Rural Development Programme; and the future of AFBI and CAFRE but mainly we wanted to ensure they fully understand the very precarious position beef farmers find themselves in. Profitability remains the most significant issue as farmers’ margins continue to be squeezed to a point where many farmers have to ask themselves hard questions about the future of their business. The prolonged debates around displaying residencies and nomad cattle have been unwelcome distractions from the main issue which is at the crux of all farm businesses – profitability. To add insult to injury, as farm gate prices were dropping retailer margins on beef products actually increased in recent months from the long term average of £2.87/kg to £3.58/kg. We cannot see any justification for this and asked that, where possible, the Government firmly scrutinise those retailers who continue to take an increased margin on beef at a time when beef producers are suffering low farm gate prices.

“This is one of the primary reasons why we asked DARD to seriously consider paying the Single Farm Payment early in October this year in an effort to accommodate producers in all sectors currently experiencing cash flow difficulties and the Committee appeared to be receptive to this idea.

“We also raised the issue of cattle residencies with the Committee and while some progress has been made in this area with regards to displaying the number of residencies of an animal we are still watching to see if all processors will ‘play ball’ and relax the penalties applied to cattle with more than four residencies over the next few months. We have asked the Committee keep an eye on the situation and to do what it can to ensure that processors are treating farmers fairly.

“The Union firmly believes that given the genuine challenges facing the beef industry there is need for additional support. We highlighted to the Committee that there is an opportunity under the NI Rural Development Programme to create a programme that could provide additional support to beef farmers and we were encouraged by their response to this idea.

“Finally, we also expressed our concern to the Committee about the budget cuts happening across the Executive and obviously we recognise that DARD is likely to be affected. However, we want to ensure that within agriculture the front-line facilities that conduct research, such as AFBI, and disseminate information, such as CAFRE, are safeguarded. Essentially these organisations are vital in supporting the continued growth and development of our industry.”