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Northern Ireland farmers call for political backing after the beef sector loses £27.5m

Warning: Sam Chesney
Warning: Sam Chesney

By Mark McConville

Northern Ireland beef farmers have lost more than £27.5m in income due to a "perfect storm" of challenges in the last nine months, according to the Ulster Farmers' Union.

The union has called on the UK government to "step up" and back the industry with financial support in light of the revelations.

UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said that the beef market has been in a "steady decline" over the last nine months with "export and domestic markets under pressure".

"Coupled with a drop in the value of sterling, a reduction in consumption, Brexit uncertainty and the food service sector sourcing more red meat from Third World countries, beef farmers are facing a perfect storm of challenges," he added.

"It would be a different story if we were dealing with just one of these, but this combined onslaught is hammering incomes.

"Farmers are losing up to £200 per head, which is totally unsustainable. It is now at a point where some are seriously considering the future viability of their family-run businesses. The financial loss to these businesses has wider consequences for Northern Ireland's agri-food industry and economy.

"Ultimately, it means reduced availability of the high quality world class beef we are known for and is demanded by consumers. It also means farm businesses have less money to spend in rural communities, impacting other rural businesses such as feed merchants and other farm suppliers.

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"The government should be under no illusions. Our industry is suffering and we are at a tipping point, which may be impossible to fully recover from.

"The UK government must step in and provide financial support to help beef farmers to ensure the future viability of this crucial industry."

The UFU said the actual financial loss on farms is likely to be higher, as the £27.5m does not factor in rising production costs.

Farmers in the Republic of Ireland have been awarded a financial aid package of €100m to help cope with the impact of Brexit which the UFU said is likely to distort beef trade on the island of Ireland if NI farmers do not receive something similar.

It has proposed the government introduce a variable, livestock slaughter premium based on the true cost of production, which is around £4.37p/kg for a U-3 steer/heifer.

Mr Chesney said: "Earlier this year, the UFU wrote to Guy Horsington, Deputy Director for Future Farming Policy at Defra, to outline the seriousness of the situation.

"The government is aware that a package of financial support, similar to the one secured for beef farming in the ROI, will be required for NI beef producers.

"Since then we have also outlined the problem to the NI Secretary of State, the DAERA permanent secretary and the five main political parties.

"We have held a number of meetings with industry partners and the other UK farming unions. Concerns around the beef industry are widely recognised and now is the time for the UK government to show its support for NI beef farmers."

In addition to financial support, local councils and other government institutions can show their support for the NI beef industry by ensuring NI Farm Quality Assured Beef is fully utilised in their public procurement policies.

Earlier this year, the four UK farming unions announced a collaborative five point plan that would help to support beef trade across the UK.

Belfast Telegraph

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