Processors were under fire over filling cold stores with imported meat
Suckler herds were the ’foundation of quality, traceable beef production’ in Northern Ireland, but industry leaders have warned numbers would continue to drop if farmers’ returns did not improve.
Latest Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) figures showed a 30-year low of suckler cows, at 245,100, which National Beef Association (NBA) NI board representative Ernie Ritchie said painted a disturbing picture for the future of the beef sector.
“Processors have been filling cold stores in anticipation of a worst-case scenario and pre-empting a lack of imported beef, effectively looking after themselves,” he added.
Mr Ritchie said this was creating an oversupply, pushing prices further down. The weather conditions have compounded the situation.
He added many beef farmers had moved to dairy or simply stopped farming.
“It ultimately comes down to lack of profit and rising costs of all inputs and the mediocre margins left by these unsustainable prices.”
Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said a lack of profitability was an issue for both upland and lowland suckler herds which needed to be resolved.
“We have urged officials here to include measures to tackle this in post-Brexit support policies. We believe sucklers remain the foundation of quality, traceable beef production,” he said.
“We recently criticised some processors here for importing cattle for slaughter from the Republic of Ireland when ample supplies are available locally.”
NI prices were usually behind GB prices, supposedly to reflect the costs of getting milk into GB – but NBA believed in reality this difference was ’far higher’ than the transport costs.
NBA called for a more joined-up approach to ensure the future for the industry, stating if farmers could not make a profit the whole sector was at risk as beef farmers looked at opportunities elsewhere.