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Farmers' losses threaten future of meat on menu

By Linda McKee

High quality Ulster beef and lamb look set to drop from the menu because of the huge losses incurred by livestock farmers.

Local beef farmers are losing £180m a year - and even the most efficient producers can't make a profit from producing high quality lamb and beef.

That's the worrying message from the Northern Ireland Red Meat Taskforce, which has just reported back on the state of the industry.

And farmers insist the independent report proves what they have known for some time - producers are losing huge sums of money. The Task Force, working with international strategic consultancy organisation McKinsey & Co, said fundamental changes are needed at all levels in the supply and production chain to return the industry to profitability. Beef farmers are losing £180m a year, excluding interest and depreciation, while the processing and retailing sectors are making £40m a year.

The report concluded that there is a future for dairy and crops here, but the figures don't add up for beef and lamb producers. Even the cost-effective suckler beef or hill sheep farmer will not be able to make a profit at current market prices.

To be profitable, suckler beef needs to fetch farmgate prices of £3.20 per kilo and hill sheep enterprise need to earn £3.35 per kilo, the report said.

Ulster Farmers Union president Kenneth Sharkey said the report has provided irrefutable evidence that without a radical new approach, high quality beef and lamb production in Northern Ireland will disappear.

"This report confirms beyond any doubt what producers already know - that they are losing enormous sums of money while processors and retailers enjoy a profitable position in the supply chain for local beef and lamb. That in itself is a disgraceful situation, but the task now is to find a positive way forward for the industry. This independent report has proven that local livestock farmers are losing £180m each year. The report illustrates that, at current price levels, even the most efficient producers cannot make a profit from producing high quality beef and lamb. These are shocking facts."

Radical thinking is now required to create a future for the local beef and sheep industry, he insisted.

"The Taskforce Report tells us where we are today, but everyone in the supply chain must urgently demonstrate the vision and commitment to make change happen and create a viable beef and sheep industry, which is so important to the Northern Ireland economy and rural communities.

"I am challenging retailers to put contracts on the table to secure the supply of locally produced beef and lamb, otherwise their customers will eventually be denied the choice of local product and Northern Ireland will lose onWe must make a success of our Unique Selling Position, high quality beef and lamb from environmentally and animal welfare friendly suckler cow herds and sheep flocks."

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