The Ulster Farmers’ Union says its fight will go on to remove the beef price differential between Northern Ireland and Great Britain for prime cattle.
Recent figures from the Livestock and Meat Commission have revealed a price gap as wide as 43p/kg for R4 grade steers compared with the price for equivalent beasts in Scotland.
The UFU says that, even compared to the lowest priced region of GB, southern England, local farmers are currently almost £250,000 worse off each week by slaughtering their cattle in Northern Ireland meat plants.
But NI Meat Exporters’ Association chief executive Phelim O’Neill told a packed meeting at Loughry College, Cookstown on Thursday night (27 November) that, if all categories of cattle were considered – not just prime cattle – then in three of the last four weeks, producers were better off selling their stock in Northern Ireland.
There were always differences between regions and between categories of cattle, he told FWi after the meeting. But the customer profile of the meat trade in Northern Ireland, which has a higher share of food service and manufacturing companies, favoured the province’s cow beef trade.
He admitted Northern Ireland was struggling on top grade animals at the moment, with some quality cuts proving harder to shift at retail level.
But UFU president Graham Furey did not accept this. “Meat plant representatives have argued that better prices for Over Thirty Month animals and cows balances the situation. But the future of our beef industry needs to focus on quality beef. Our focus is on why steers, heifers and young bulls in Northern Ireland are being devalued.”
UFU beef and lamb chairman William Taylor said “There should be an incentive for quality beef, but in fact the opposite is happening. The beef price differential is unjustifiable and we are determined to get it removed permanently.”