The Ulster Farmer’s Union (UFU) have demanded answers over the increased importation of cattle from south of the border.
The organisation expressed their frustration at meat plants increasing imports of cattle for slaughter, when there is already a good source of high-quality cattle availability in the locality. Beef and lamb chair of the UFU, Sam Chesney, says the news is a “smack in the face” for local farmers and proves why the relationship between processors and farmers remains strained.
He noted that farmers now find it hard to trust meat plants and says this lack of trust has no been justified with recent import figures showing that almost 1,400 cattle were imported from the Republic of Ireland for slaughter. This represents a significant increase from the 234 cattle imported in January 2018, an increase of almost 600%!
“Put simply farmers find it hard to trust the meat plants. For many this will confirm that their distrust is fully justified,” said Mr Chesney.
The UFU has challenged those importing cattle to explain their decision to local farmers. He says farmers now know why they couldn’t book cattle into plants as of late.
“Farmers have been finding it difficult to book cattle into plants and now we know why. We understand meat plants make commercial decisions, but this demonstrates bad faith when the supply is there and processors still choose to import.” He said.
“Farmers are already struggling with margins and increased imports add to unnecessary queues and depressed prices,” Mr Chesney added.
The UFU encouraged those meat plants importing to review their current practices and follow the lead of those prepared to back local farmers.
“We feel our criticism is fair and we urge those importing cattle to take a longer-term view of the importance of their supply base here by rethinking this short-term strategy and getting behind local farmers,” said the UFU beef and lamb chairman.
The UFU has requested meetings with the meat plants that increased imports of prime cattle from ROI in January 2019.
Better marketing needed for Sucklers -
Staying with beef production, the UFU have also called for better marketing of the Suckler sector.
They have called for a drive to help promote the quality of beef from Suckler herds, with UFU’s Sam Chesney, noting that Suckler farmers are currently struggling to break even.
“Northern Ireland beef is sold on the back of the Suckler image of hearty looking cattle, grazing lush green fields.” said Mr Chesney.
“However, Suckler farmers don’t gain when it comes to this marketing. The quality of their beef is second to none and producers should be paid accordingly,”
The UFU says current costs of producing Suckler beef are up to £5 a kilo, which they say is far in excess of what the market is returning. They say this underlines that this enterprise is important to the structure of farming and as part of the image of quality beef production in Northern Ireland. They warned that the Suckler sector should disappear, if the lack of profitability continues.
“The extensive nature of grass-based Suckler farming brings multiple benefits. Grass-fed Suckler herds help to manage many habitats and produce a quality product from land that is unable to produce other crops.” Mr Chesney said.
“Grassland is also important for carbon sequestration. All this needs to be rewarded with support and from people paying a justified premium for a quality product. I believe that if the beef from these herds is promoted properly, people will recognise why it is worth paying for provenance and quality” he added.
The UFU says processors and marketing organisations, such as the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and Invest NI, need to do more to recognise the importance of this sector and the threat it is under if steps are not taken to improve profitability.
“As an industry, we need to ask whether we want a Suckler industry. If we do, then we must come up with radical ideas to encourage consumers to recognise what it offers and to improve the depressing profitability statistics,” Mr Chesney concluded.