The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said many beef farmers will have been starkly reminded that they face big losses to their Single Farm Payment (SFP) under the newly reformed CAP following a DARD presentation at a recent LMC/AFBI beef conference.

UFU President Ian Marshall said that overall, there were some positive and encouraging messages coming out of the beef conference in relation to genomics and how efficiencies can be made at a farm level but the figures displayed by DARD were a bleak reminder that the beef sector will experience some tough choices and significant difficulties through the CAP transition period.

“The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for beef farmers. The industry has taken hit after hit with the fodder crisis in 2013 and the collapse of the beef market in early 2014 being the biggest blows. From the outset of the CAP reform process the UFU consistently highlighted that efficient, productive beef farmers across all areas of Northern Ireland were likely to be the most severely affected by the move to a flatter rate payment and called for a financial support mechanism to be put in place to help beef farmers generally, and suckler producers in particular, adapt their businesses during the transition period and to drive improved efficiency.

"In fact, we have consistently lobbied DARD to create a beef support scheme to be delivered as part of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme, similar to what is available to farmers in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland where the governments have acknowledged the significant contribution the beef sector makes to the economy."

He also said that, to date, our calls have fallen on deaf ears and the UFU are deeply disappointed that DARD has failed to do anything to address this matter.

"Beef farmers have been left with the feeling that DARD do not value their contribution to the wider rural economy and fundamental importance of the sector to the objectives of the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s ‘Going for Growth’ report. And the almost dismissive message coming from DARD that some beef farmers will be able to mitigate the impact of reduced SFP support payments by spreading their payments over land they take in conacre and that reducing support in itself will drive efficiencies, just shows how distant they are from the reality on the ground.

“This country’s rural economy has been built on the strength and resilience of the family farm many of which have sustained an income from the suckler cow. Beef farmers of course would prefer to be in a position where the market properly rewards the cost of production and delivers a profit which can help sustain these businesses, but unfortunately the supply chain has continuously failed to deliver this. Ensuring direct support is maintained is crucial for the sustainability of the family farm in Northern Ireland and now more than ever there is a real need for DARD to re-assess options which can help protect the beef industry.”