LMC chief executive Ian Stevenson has confirmed that plans are in place to have an independent evaluation of the disparity between beef prices in Northern Ireland and the rest of the British Isles completed by the end of the current financial year.
“This was built into our current business plan and we are currently working through the process of defining and planning the project,” he added.
“We plan to have the work undertaken by independent analysts who have yet to be appointed and it will be carried out on the basis that it will provide clear insights from which all the stakeholder groups within the beef sector can learn for the future.”
NIMEA (Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association) chief executive Phelim O’Neill told Farming Life that the redmeat processing sector welcomes the commitment of the LMC to find out exactly what is causing the scale of the current disparity between producers prices in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“There is no doubt that the differential in prices is currently larger than would normally be the case,” he further explained.
“And it is crucially important that the reasons for this are identified in a wholly independent manner.
“The past weeks have seen local meat plants dealing with exceptionally large kills. The reality is that processors must find homes for this extra beef within a relatively short period of time.
Weather factors and accompanying grass shortages have, no doubt, brought about a scenario in which farmers have been left with no option but to sell stock.
As a consequence, all of this extra beef is being sold on the GB market at a time when beef consumption levels are traditionally at their lowest ebb.
“However, the beef market is totally transparent and farmers here in Northern Ireland have the option of exporting their stock on the hoof by way of the various marts.”
Both Ian Stevenson and Phelim O’Neill made their comments in the wake of the recent public outbursts, from a range of farming and politicians, regarding the current disastrous returns for beef cattle in Northern Ireland.
UFU President Harry Sinclair said: “The market will support a better beef price and we are urging our members to not take the first price they are offered. Hold out for a better price; the market can sustain this.
The improvement in weather will help farmers to do this. We have been taking an unjustifiably low price for beef all summer and it’s time that our members demanded a better price.
If the market was over supplied this would be difficult, but the market is in fact under supplied so producers should be more confident.”
Mr Sinclair was speaking after a UFU beef meeting in Cookstown, at which members of the UFU Beef and Lamb & Hill Farming committees met to discuss the current crisis in the industry.
The Union was joined at the meeting by representatives from the Irish Farmers’ Association and a number of MEPs and MLAs.
The key message from the meeting is that demand is exceeding supply in the UK and European beef markets and therefore the prices being offered to local producers are unjustifiably low.
“All producers want is a fair price. The market can and should be delivering better prices for farmers,” Mr Sinclair continued.
“The unjustifiable beef price differential with GB is making matters worse. Currently NI producers are receiving prices 40-50p/Kg below their GB counterparts, despite the fact that we are producing the same quality cattle and supplying the same markets.”
Commenting on the situation faced by local beef producers Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said: “Like any sector it is vital that there is a fair distribution of costs and profits along all parts of the beef supply chain.
The current combination of issues affecting livestock producers which include; poor weather and ground conditions plus spiralling costs of production, mean that the future of the entire beef sector as a whole will suffer if farmers do not receive prices that reflect the current realities on the ground.
“I will continue to support any efforts that help to improve the situation for our beef farmers as this will ensure the long term sustainability of the sector which is also good for the wider Northern Ireland economy.”
Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, the Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson commented: “DARD need to become far more pro-active in fighting for Northern Ireland Beef producers to ensure that they receive parity and fairness in relation to the price they receive.
“As a beef farmer myself I fully understand and agree with the issues which industry representatives have raised.
I have written directly to the minister to ask what pressure DARD is willing to exert to enable Northern Ireland Beef producers to receive fair and more equitable farm gate prices for their produce when compared with other regions within the United Kingdom.
“DARD have it within their power to act in the best interests of the industry however their efforts thus far have been lacking.”
Commenting on the outcome of the UFU meeting, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said: “The frustration at the unfairness within the supply chain was evident with many farmers, speaking out about the difficult situation which they are facing this winter especially with rising feed costs.
The situation is also compounded by the difference in farm gate prices between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The same product, with the same standards, sold on the same shelves with a farm gate price difference of up to 40 pence per kilo is an extremely hard pill to swallow.”
Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Stormont Agriculture Committee member William Irwin MLA has said beef farmers are angry over the ever expanding gap in prices between factories here in Northern Ireland and on the UK mainland.
He stated: “The message from farmers on Wednesday night was clear, factories need to step up to the mark and offer a fair price to farmers.
The current 40p per kilo difference cannot be justified by factories here and it is clear that they could offer a much better price and they need to realise this immediately.”
Mr Irwin concluded: “The practical advice from the floor was to resist quotes from factories and consider exporting to Great Britain.
Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association also pointed out the need for greater farmer coordination and the importance of shopping around for better quotes or even holding livestock back from factories in the short term.
“From a European perspective this current crisis just highlights the importance of a safety net which the Common Agriculture Policy provides.
Some may argue that if we didn’t have the CAP then the market would have to pay for the products produced, I have my reservations.”
SDLP agriculture spokesperson Joe Byrne has said both the beef and pig producing sector must stand together to negotiate better farm gate prices. Mr Byrne also said co-operation north and south is key in obtaining a fairer deal for short-changed farmers here.
He said: “I attended a meeting in Cookstown on Wednesday night hosted by the UFU involving MEP and MLAs and we discussed the problem facing the beef industry. Unfortunately, it is the same as those facing the pig producers – low farm gate prices.
“For the past three months I have been stating that farmers are being short changed by these low farm-gate prices that they are getting for milk, beef, sheep and pig. The primary producers are not getting a fair deal.
“I discussed with two senior members of the Irish Farmers’ Association that there needs to be co-operation north and south with trying to obtain better prices.
“The time has come for farmers to stand together and negotiate a better price for beef and other produce.”
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