The decision by meat plants in Northern Ireland to pull the price of beef over the last number of weeks is sending out the wrong message to young farmers, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) Deputy President, Ivor Ferguson.

Ferguson said in recent weeks 2,700 young people from across Northern Ireland successfully complete the Level 2 Agriculture qualification, many of whom are from a beef farming background.

“However during that same period we have also witnessed meat plants pull their quotes for finished beef by 20p/kilo.

“With spring conditions slow to improve, we are at a period of time when finishing costs are historically high and once again processors are showing their lack of understanding of the costs associated with producing the raw materials they need,” he said.

According to Ferguson, this has left farmers questioning how they are meant to encourage young people into the business when meat processors seem so keen to devalue the product farmers produce and instead appear constantly focused on their short-term gains rather than investing in a supply base which can work off a sustainable price going into the future.

“While it is positive that some processors are driving ahead, upgrading their facilities and creating more local jobs, the reality for their farmer suppliers is that this year is proving to be one of great uncertainty,” he said.

Ferguson said beef farmers are very concerned about the impact CAP Reform is going to have on their business over the next seven years both in terms of land availability and the loss of income which will be felt on many beef farms as they move down towards a flat rate payment.

Furthermore, he said with no sign of DARD committing to the introduction of a Beef Efficiency Scheme the like of which has been introduced in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland this leaves farmers feeling like they are at a competitive disadvantage compared with neighbouring regions.