The Ulster Farmers’ Union has begun a series of meetings with meat processors

Topping the agenda is concern amongst farmers in Northern Ireland about poor beef and lamb prices, and the failure of the market to deliver a viable return.

Severe price volatility means farmers are finding it difficult to plan ahead, said UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson.

“Currently a 350 kg animal is making £200 less than in January, while new season lambs are back £20 a head on this time last year. Processors argue that this is being driven by a weak euro and poor consumer demand. But this cannot take away from the fact that current prices are extremely damaging to farm businesses.

“Farmers have now experienced this level of volatility two years in a row, and there are forecasts it will continue,” he said.

The UFU says the red meat industry cannot simply ignore the impact at farm level.

“Solutions need to be identified that help farmers manage this volatility. We believe greater consideration must be given to forward contracts, similar to those available for livestock farmers elsewhere – including other parts of the UK,“ said Ferguson, adding that this type of solution should not depend on whether someone is a big or small producer.

“It should depend solely on the farmer’s ability to guarantee a supply of animals that meet the specification the market requires.”

The UFU also underlined the need to speed up progress with red meat exports outside the EU.

“We have watched the Republic of Ireland pull well ahead with generating new export markets. Given our similarities in terms of the economic importance of the agri-food industry, it is crucial that greater resources are made available at a government level, so there can be no excuses for delay,” said Ferguson.

He added that the UFU recognises that the team DARD have involved in pursuing exports is doing the best it can.

“There are however questions that need to be asked of the UK government, as to whether they truly understand the importance of the agri-food sector to the NI economy”, he said, adding that allocating greater resources to drive this vital issue forward would ultimately be a big win for all those depending on export success being achieved.