East Antrim Ulster Unionist Party MLA Roy Beggs Jr has questioned the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development on what action she plans to take or has taken in relation to a discrepancy in beef pricing between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom, during question time at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Mr Beggs asked the Minister “to detail what action is being taken to remove the discrepancy between beef pricing paid to local farmers compared to those to farmers in other parts of the United Kingdom?”
Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA responded saying, “… I do understand the concerns of farmers who feel that they are not getting a fair price for their produce in comparison to their counterparts in Britain. A 2013 Livestock and Meat Commission study examined the beef price differential. It identified transport costs to Britain, cheaper supply available from the south and seasonality of production – usually with an over-supply in the autumn as the main causes.
DARD is also focussed on enhancing our penetration of existing markets and developing new export opportunities. We have recently agreed terms to trade beef with Canada and are preparing for a range of trade inspections in early 2016 with the aim of accessing the US and Philippines beef markets. In addition, our largest ever Rural Development Programme proposes a range of measures to support improved skills, knowledge, cooperation and capital investment, through the Farm Business Improvement Scheme. We also provide support for education, research and knowledge transfer through the work at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and the Agri-food Biosciences Institute. Finally, I asked the Agri-Food Strategy Board to convene a Supply Chain Forum to bring together farmers, processors, retailers etc. to address challenges and opportunities for all sectors. The Forum should provide an opportunity for the beef supply chain to work together to strengthen relationships and support a fair reward for all elements of the chain.”
Mr Beggs, who served as Vice Chairman of the Agriculture Committee in recent times at Stormont added “We need to do more to bring NI beef pricing into line with the rest of the UK. I welcome the formation of the Agri-Food Strategy Board to convene a Supply Chain Forum which will hopefully contribute to improve the local returns for beef farmers and avoid the need to transport cattle to Scotland to obtain better returns.”