Hampton Hewitt, owner of Markethill Livestock Mart in Co Armagh, has indicated to AgriLand that the decision taken by the Northern meat plants, which will see them  slash the price of cattle known  to have been resident on four or more farms, discriminates totally against the interests of  livestock farmers in the North.

“This is also an attempt by the supermarkets to control the operation of the livestock marts here in Northern Ireland,” he added.

“We have been told that the plants will introduce the new buying arrangements at the beginning of April. From that time on cattle that do not comply with the ‘residency’ criteria will regarded as out of spec and, as a consequence, devalued to the tune of £150 per head.”

“Auctioneers have been told that this measure already operates in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, so Northern Ireland will have to fall into line.

“But the reality of the situation is that Northern Ireland is totally different from the rest of the British Isles in this regard. Locally reared cattle are only transported relatively small distances from their farm of birth to a finishing unit, no matter how many times they move during their lifetimes. As a consequence, the stressed place on animals courtesy of these movements is extremely small.

“If these new measures are introduced they will do untold damage to the operation of local marts. They will also drastically reduce the marketing options that farmers have for their stock.”

Meanwhile, Farmers for Action’s William Taylor said he has never seen farmers and auction marts so angry.

“This blatant attempt of the abattoirs to shut down Northern Ireland’s livestock marts is, to say the least, anti-competitive. Their ultimate goal is to completely control beef and lamb movements and prices throughout the British Isles.”

William Taylor went on to confirm that Farmers for Action will be organising producer-led strike action, targeting the meat plants on April 2nd.

Commenting on these developments UFU Beef and Lamb Chairman Robert Davidson said;

“This first became an issue in September last year when the in-spec bonus was increased by 4p/kg for cattle that had resided on no more than four farms. At that time we were aware that this maximum movement requirement, particularly from retail customers, had already been operational elsewhere in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). Indeed, the movement history of each animal was already readily available at point of sale in ROI and was something we had met with the NI Livestock Marts about as we believed strongly that buyers are entitled to full disclosure about an animal’s movement before purchase.

“However, the understanding that this bonus system is set to be replaced by penalties is cause for concern. Also, the 1st April deadline for implementing these changes is far too quick and comes at a time when beef farmers are already under a considerable amount of pressure and can ill-afford to have their margins squeezed further. The UFU Beef and Lamb Policy Committee is meeting next week and will be discussing this issue in more detail.”