Slaughterhouse© FLPA/John Eveson/REX/Shutterstock

Beef and sheep farmers have stepped up their push for clearer, more consistent dealings with abattoirs.

The NFU has launched its market transparency project, which will highlight the foggiest parts of the deadweight trade, such as specs, deductions and levied charges.

Throughout July and August, farmers are being asked to fill out a survey and upload kill sheets and payment grids from the past 12 months.

The data will be gathered in a report that the NFU will use to push for more straightforward terms for its members.

See also: Beef spec changes ripple through after 2016 uproar

In 2015, a similar survey showed farmers faced confusion when selling stock direct.

NFU chief livestock adviser John Royle said transparency had not improved and he wanted to work with the processors to make lasting improvements.

“Hopefully, the report will shine a light on good and bad practice,” he said. “A lot of the deductions are not reflecting the actual cost of the business and a number of them are costs to the [processor’s] business, not the farmer’s, like waste disposal.”

In the previous survey, farmers selling sheep straight to processors complained of inconsistencies, some of which could carry significant costs.

Many abattoirs, the report found, did not use industry standard dressing specs.

Two firms quoted in the report had a 0.4kg difference in their specifications, which would have led to a 332kg difference, equivalent to 17 lambs, over a year for the average farmer in the sample.

The report also found rounding down lamb weights to the nearest half kilo was still common, many smaller buyers were paying on weight not classification, and the hot-cold rebate unfairly penalised the heaviest and lightest carcasses.

Lack of openness

For beef producers, the main gripes involved a lack of openness from abattoirs.

Producers told the NFU that not all processors had payment grids and terms freely available online, no official guidance existed for the different charges and deductions, and different plants under the same ownership were using different charging structures.

Mr Royle said today could be a better time for the government to step in and the tighter prime cattle market might give a spur to abattoirs.

“With a new agriculture bill as we step away from Europe, we have a real opportunity to sort things out now,” he said.

“I think [abattoirs] are a bit more receptive to work with the industry, because the processors need the animals kill to maintain inputs.”

NFU members can fill out the survey on the NFU website.