The bottomless mystery of the permanent squeeze on Northern Ireland’s slaughter cattle price continues.
The latest confirmed figures show that R4L steers in the Province are averaging 252p per dwkg at the same time as mainland cattle are levelling at 285p. This is a difference of 33p a kilo or £105 per head on a 320 kilo carcase.
The National Beef Association has noticed that whenever it attempts to re-arrange the chess pieces, to help beef farmers meet the cost of producing beef cattle, it is outmanoeuvred by long practiced masters at the price arrangement game – who are sometimes helped by the actions of the NI government.
“One of the NBA’s recent moves was to persuade farmers to offer more fat cattle through markets and so re-introduce competition, which is conspicuously absent among deadweight purchasers,” explained the Association’s Northern Ireland chairman, Oisin Murnion.
“But some of the factories, which over the summer worked hard at depressing the NI market by purchasing large numbers of discounted slaughter animals from the South, immediately demonstrated longstanding expertise by insisting that any animal acquired at open auction had to be held by the owner for a further 21 days before being processed.”
“This practiced move immediately put auction sellers on the back foot because a further three weeks feeding added to their costs as well as raising the danger of them underselling on a rising market, and then delivering cattle that risked being slightly overfed as well. So attempts to raise competitive auction throughput were quickly stifled.”
However NBA efforts to introduce more competition into the notoriously sluggish NI market by diverting forward store cattle to hungry mainland buyers has also been nipped – this time by DARD red tape.
“The plan is to duck the factory stranglehold by selling heavy stores to British feeders at prices which dramatically exceeded those that the factories would have been prepared to offer if the cattle were fully finished,” said Mr Murnion.
“The Association is making arrangements, within its membership at first, to connect buyers with sellers – and so introduce more income for NI’s beef farmers.”
“However DARD is insisting that store cattle being moved into GB must meet export certification. This is a huge surprise because NI is part of the UK and moving livestock between one region of a country and another should be classed as an internal transfer, not export.”
“Nevertheless DARD is demanding that store cattle are tested for both TB and brucellosis within 30 days of the movement, which adds dramatically to both inconvenience and cost.”
“The NBA will be asking the Chief Vet in Northern Ireland to justify this,” Mr Murnion added.
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