UFU calls for aid package similar to Irish deal

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said that a financial support package, similar to the €100 million beef fund for Ireland, may be needed for Northern Ireland’s beef farmers.

The union warns that beef farmers in the north are becoming “increasingly disillusioned” with the current market, and has informed the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that financial support measures may be necessary.

“The continuous fall in price has been happening at a time when input costs have risen significantly and has put pressure on profit margins,” said Sam Chesney, the union’s beef and lamb chairman.

Beef imports into Northern Ireland have also risen while there continues to be an abundance of local, high quality, farm quality assured red meat available. Undoubtedly, this has had an impact on price.

“The current market situation is completely unsustainable for local producers and should cause alarm for everyone in the supply chain. Government must also take note as the current situation puts the future of Northern Ireland’s family-farm structure at risk,” he continued.

The union has written to Guy Horsington – deputy director for future farming policy at Defra – to outline the “seriousness of the situation”.

“The UK Government has a role to play in ensuring the future of family-run farms is viable. Northern Ireland beef farmers have watched as the Irish Government secured emergency funding of up to €100 million to help beef farmers cope with market uncertainty caused by Brexit,” Chesney said.

Irish beef farmers are set to get €50 million from the EU, which will be matched by the Government there.

Without a similar package here, the Ireland intervention could potentially distort the UK and EU markets, putting even more pressure on already squeezed farm-gate prices in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“The beef sector continues to be plagued by Brexit uncertainties and it is damaging our industry. There is a lack of clarity around our future trading relationship and tariff schedule with the EU post-Brexit, and that is putting enormous pressure on farmers, their families, and their businesses,” he argued.

The UFU said it would continue to monitor the situation.