UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said that farm-gate prices for U-3 steers had dropped almost 10% over the past year.
“This continuous fall in price has been happening at a time when input costs have risen significantly and has put pressure on profit margins. Beef imports into Northern Ireland have also risen, while there continues to be an abundance of local, high-quality, farm quality-assured red meat available. Undoubtedly, this has had an impact on price.
“The current market situation is completely unsustainable for local producers and should cause alarm for everyone in the supply chain. Government must also take note, as the current situation puts the future of Northern Ireland’s family farm structure at risk.”
To highlight the seriousness of the situation, the UFU has written to Guy Horsington, deputy director for future farming policy at the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), to make the Government aware that a package of financial support, similar to the one secured for beef farmers in the Republic of Ireland, may be needed.
“Something needs to be done. The UK Government has a role to play in ensuring the future of family-run farms is viable,” said Chesney. “Northern Ireland beef farmers have watched as the Irish Government secured emergency funding of up to €100m to help beef farmers cope with market uncertainty caused by Brexit. Without a similar package here, the ROI intervention could potentially distort the UK and EU markets, putting even more pressure on already squeezed farm-gate prices in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”
Chesney added that the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal was further aggravating the situation. “The beef sector continues to be plagued by Brexit uncertainties and it is damaging our industry. There is a lack of clarity around our future trading relationship and tariff schedule with the EU post-Brexit, and that is putting enormous pressure on farmers, their families and their businesses. Without certainty, it is very difficult for a farm business to forward-plan.”