With the news that livestock markets are now working with cattle farmers on the residencies issue, Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall is calling on processors to honour their commitment and significantly relax penalties on cattle with more than four residencies until January 1, 2015.

“For months now we have consistently called on the livestock markets to work with their customers and disclose the number of residencies at the point of sale to help ensure that there is greater transparency in the market place. This in turn would allow farmers to market their cattle appropriately and reduce the risk of penalties as they approach slaughter condition.

“This was an important condition of the agreement set out by LMC throughout recent discussions however equally important was that individual processors significantly relax the penalties being applied on cattle with more than four residencies. Farmers and Government are carefully monitoring processor activity and it is now essential that they follow up on their commitments and give the industry time to adjust going into 2015.”

He said this has been a difficult set of circumstances for all parties involved but we have to remember that it is farmers who have felt the majority of the financial pain throughout this process. “Compounded with unprofitable farm gate returns, the issue surrounding residencies like so many other difficulties, encountered in the last 24 months, in relation to specifications demonstrates why it is essential that a code of practice is put in place to ensure that these unnecessary problems do not occur again in the future.

“At the DEFRA ‘Beef Summit’ in July it was agreed that the entire agri-food supply chain needs greater consultation, transparency and lead in times to adapt to any potential changes in specification. Crucially this must be backed up with sound economic and scientific evidence to support any proposed changes. The LMC has recognised this as well and we commend them on their ‘Protocol for management of communication and decision making around issues of specification and related price signals.’ However, it is imperative that this document has the full backing of industry and our politicians to help ensure that Northern Ireland producers are given the protection they need and also to ensure that the industry is given every opportunity to access the high value markets which we must strive to service to get maximum returns for the sector.

“We understand that NIMEA are meeting next week and would ask that all processors stand by their commitments to resolve this dilemma and act sympathetically with regards to penalties. We would also encourage farmers to monitor the situation going forward and report processor practices.”