It is an old saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing so it is with some caution that this week Industry Insight strays from home turf to look at the news making the dairy sector and what if any lessons might be transferable across to beef and lamb.
In a Northern Ireland context as with our neighbours in ROI the great similarity between milk and meat markets is our mutual dependence on exporting up to three quarters of what we produce off the island.
Our destination markets were both historically the world and while that is in theory still the same, there is no denying the effect of a 10 year export ban on beef and a refocusing on markets with the target moving to the UK retail and food service sectors.
Re-entry to export markets has been a painfully slow process with each one having to be won individually and as a result our beef and indeed lamb industry are still very much UK focused.
It has been different for milk and herein lies a great difference with the GB industry.
They are very much liquid milk focused supplying the large retail and again food service market on their doorstep.
In Northern Ireland without a huge domestic market at a time when shelf life wasn’t what it is today, our industry specialises in butter, cheeses and dried milk for sale in the far flung corners of the globe.
The EU support systems for dairying as in beef from the late 1970s to the 1990’s provided a sound base on which this business could be built and it is now sufficiently well established that it survives and prospers without EU support.
As a result while we might be disappointed with milk process here, we are not as dependent on the UK market and somewhat protected from a supermarket price war.
Our great concern is what happens in the New Zealand and the Fonterra milk auction.
Meanwhile in the GB retail scene the battle has taken on a new twist this week with celebrity chefs joining the crusade for better prices to farmers.
There is some irony in a former pin up of a major retailer taking such a position, but it does give the debate an interesting focal point around whether the GB consumer will shun cheap product offering on the shelves in return for giving the farmer producing it a fairer price.
As referred to earlier, while the focus in GB is on milk at present, from our market perspective the same is applicable to beef and at least some of our lamb.
The best and most secure way of getting a better return back to the farm gate is to grow the overall value of the carcass and consumers’ paying a bit more is a huge part of this.
Agri food products, despite some increase in the past couple of years are still historically cheap.
If we can harness the celebrity chefs and other opinion formers on this message, then we have a chance of moving forward in a really productive way.
(Views expressed in this article are those of the writer only and do not represent any organisation or association.)
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