Processors must focus on delivering better prices and greater transparency if the drive to build a better red meat industry in Northern Ireland is to prove successful, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Recently, prices for beef and lamb have improved, said UFU Beef and Lamb Chairman, Crosby Cleland.

“Much of this is down to the weakness of Sterling. This has created export opportunities and made importing cheap meat less attractive.

But while these better prices are welcome, we can’t lose sight of the fact that input prices are starting to rise. This will limit any boost to producer margins.

He said farmers would try to counter rising costs by being more efficient, but stressed that processors must accept the need to deliver strong prices through uncertain times.

“This uncertainty reflects concerns surrounding Brexit and the continued reduction in BPS payments on many farms. These and other things are having a big impact on producer decision making. This makes viable and stable prices vital if processors want long term security of supply.”

The UFU says that while some processors are already working with farmers to improve understanding of the supply chain, others need to show a greater commitment to transparency.

Historically farmers have had few opportunities to understand how the processing sector works. This has not made for good relationships between farmers and those who buy their livestock.

“Processors need to be more open about how stock is processed, the marketing of red meat and also returning more specific feedback to farmers on their livestock so that farm production can be improved.

“If processors commit to building better relationships with farmers, through improved transparency, this industry can deliver better returns for everyone,” he said.

Last month, UFU officials attended a meeting to agree the priorities for Brexit negotiations in Westminster and Brussels.

Those present agreed that, despite the challenges, Brexit provides an opportunity to introduce policies that will secure the future supply of high quality, safe and affordable food.