NI farmers struggle with bureaucracy

Beef and lamb farmers are drowning in paperwork and should be allowed to get on with the business of farming, according to the Northern Ireland Red Meat Industry Task Force.

It has called on government to reduce costs on the industry arising from bureaucracy and form-filling, and to streamline systems and procedures.

The task force estimates that Northern Ireland's red meat industry faces a legislative cost burden of more than £25m per year, with the wider livestock industry facing an additional £50m due to EU restrictions on the importation of GM feeds.

Said chairman Pat O'Rourke: "The number of directives emanating from Europe and at regional level is placing an unnecessary burden on our farmers and needs to be addressed. Instead of drowning in paperwork and forms, our farmers need to be free to focus on the business in hand, such as straightforward farming, which will see them through these challenging times."

Farm gate prices have risen by one-third since the establishment of the NI Red Meat Industry Task Force and, for the first time since 2005, farm gate share of retail prices has exceeded 50%.

Despite this, producers and processors at the Task Force Conference were warned that the industry continues to face extremely challenging times ahead.

While no decision has been made by Brussels on the future of the Single Farm Payment, delegates were advised that the existing practice of using this payment to cover the cost of loss-making production needed to be eradicated. "If our industry is to be sustainable post-CAP reform in 2013, then we need to ensure that red meat production is sustainable as a stand-alone enterprise," said O'Rourke.

According to the EU's Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, every farm policy will have to take into account its effect on climate change.

Added O'Rourke: "Northern Ireland's image in the eyes of European consumers is already one of a pure, green, natural environment from where we produce high-quality beef and lamb. We should do all we can to capitalise on this perception."