Farmers For Action (FFA) has written to the Northern Ireland (NI) Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and Red Tractor, demanding immediate financial benefits for farmers under their quality-assurance schemes.

On behalf of farmers FFA said, it has called on LMC’s Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) and Red Tractor to immediately deliver, financially, at the farmgate, or leave the industry.

FFA’s Sean McAuley said that while both schemes initially started to return a bonus to farmers, they turned into a penalty for those not participating, or anyone not renewing their membership.

There is no longer any bonus; instead there are increasing expenses for family farmers renewing their membership, including the requirement for sprayers and fertiliser sowers to be certified and calibrated annually, he said.

Commenting on the negative effects of those schemes on family farms, McAuley said:

“Family farmers [have] to pay for an increasing number of certificates, which has now turned into a whole industry in itself – without return at the farmgate, only penalties, additional expense, hassle and stress diminishing family farmers’ freedom to farm.”

In its letter to LMC and Red Tractor, FFA usaid that, if schemes continue in their current line of projection, farmers in NI will have to be paid for their participation.

“Any claims that the schemes are voluntary must now be dismissed immediately, due to the penalties farmers incur when selling non-Red Tractor or non-FQAS produce,” the organisation added.

NI farm incomes

Farm incomes currently fall far short of the true cost of production plus a margin on farms, McAuley said, and therefore “the last thing family farmers need is additional administration, time and effort for a minus return”.

Questions have increasingly been asked by family farmers in NI, according to McAuley, which criticise the current handling and the benefits of those quality-assurance schemes for farmers.

Due to the increasing pressure of quality inspections, he said, young people are being put off from entering the farming sector, while other family farmers consider quitting.

Farmers have raised the question whether those quality marks serve any purpose, claiming that it is hard to find food products displaying such labels, and that money might be taken off farmers unnecessarily, FFA said.