Opinion

Poor farmer turn-out takes the edge off NBA event

The National Beef Association (NBA) should be congratulated for the effort brought to bear in hosting the recent ‘Beef Expo’ event in Dungannon, which took place last Monday, February 26.

The only down side was the poor enough turnout of farmers on the day. I can’t explain why this should be. Certainly, the event had been profiled well enough beforehand. Possibly, the dry weather on the day in question had given farmers an opportunity to get slurry out.

It struck me, though, that the previous Saturday would have been a better day on which to hold the event.

The weekend tends to a better time for livestock farmers, given that many of them now work on a part-time basis.

However, the event provided NBA chief executive Chris Mallon with an opportunity to give an upbeat perspective on the future for suckler production in Northern Ireland.

And let’s hope he’s right.

Suckler cows provide the quality beef that is the flagship product that emanates from our redmeat industry.

They are at the heart of the environmental and conservation practises followed by farmers. Both these factors must be fully recognised by future farm policy-makers and consumers throughout the UK and beyond.

Significantly, Mallon believes that suckler cow numbers can be enhanced on the back of future trade opportunities for high-quality beef with countries such as China.

And, again, let’s hope he is right.

But where I would take real issue with the NBA representative is with regard to his assertion that beef farmers in Northern Ireland must look forward to a future without the support of direct payments. The fundamental reality is that suckler producers, in particular, need to have a sustainable business plan if they hope to survive.

Making this happen will require sturdy supports in place to improve their bottom line and keep businesses viable – ideally linked to measures that will improve farm efficiency.

Mallon’s comments on the future prospect of exporting beef from the UK to China are worthy of further comment. He specifically highlighted the continuing rise of the middle classes in that country and their demand for high-quality food products.

Hence, his perspective on the potential that now exists for redmeat processors in the North to put high-quality beef on to the Chinese market.