BYGONE DAYS: Challenges lie ahead for newly elected UFU president

Newly elected Ulster Farmers’ Union president John Mulvenna had spoken this week in May 1991 of the “huge problems and challenges” facing the industry in Northern Ireland

Saturday, 15th May 2021, 11:00 am
Caldwell McAskie from Omagh with Mountjoy Friar, the supreme champion at the Northern Ireland Charolais Club's April sale at the Automart, Portadown in 1991. Picture: Eddie Harvey/Farming Life archives

Mr Mulvenna, who was elected president at the UFU’s conference and annual meeting at Greenmount College, said that, “quotas, setaside, extensification and grants for doing nothing or maintaining the beauty of the countryside may be alright in their own place but, taken along, they are code words for an industry in decline”.

There was, however, an industry that was vast and guaranteed to grow in value, said the new UFU president. “It is food production to standards and quality required, adding value to primary products and putting them in myriad ways on the supermarket shelves of the world,” noted Mr Mulvenna.


Speaking to Farming Life Mr Mulvenna said: “Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the industry is the proposed cuts in support which are likely to result from any agreement in the GATT talks. The GATT aim of liberalising world trade would allow cheap imports on to markets already oversupplied.

“I have consistently felt that our problems must be solved within Europe. It is to be hoped that agreement resulting from GATT will be fair to our agriculture, that there will be recognition of our disadvantages and that change will be introduced at a pace acceptable to the industry.”

He continued: “There must also be an acceptance that, where supply management controls already exist, there will be corresponding control of the entry of product on to the EC market.”


Douglas Graham, left, from Enniskillen, who judged the animals at the at the Northern Ireland Charolais Club's April sale at the Automart, Portadown in 1991, he is pictured with Mrs Shiela McAlpine, president of the British Charolais Cattle Society, and Norman McClelland from Coleraine, chairman of the Northern Ireland Charolais Club. Picture: Eddie Harvey/Farming Life archives

Mr Mulvenna said that reform of the CAP was opening up “additional problems” for the industry. He warned: “The present price proposals, if adopted, will mean further cuts in milk quotas, technical changes to Ewe Premium calculation and the disappearance of safety net intervention which will place additional burdens on the industry.”

He added: “But if cuts have to be imposed they must be imposed fairly and equally between member states.”

Mr Mulvenna said that the liberalisation of Eastern Europe, while a welcome development, had put enormous pressure on producers within the EEC. He said: “The access of the Eastern European product has exacerbated the surplus situation which is appearing in many sectors of EC food. Commissioner MacSharry must take account of this when deciding how to reduce these surpluses.”

Mr Mulvenna added: “Another tremendous challenge to the industry is the arrival of 1992 and with it the realisation of the single market.”

Pictured in May 1991 is Karen Wallace, a member of Finvoy YFC, having a look at one of the club exhibits at the YFCU AGM and conference which was held at Balmoral. Picture: Randall Mulligan/Farming Life archives

Mr Mulvenna said that animal health regulations could place an additional financial burden on the industry.

He told Farming Life: “It is my view that we should try to achieve the highest possible health standards in the province.

“There is justifiable concern about present low beef and sheep returns and it is difficult to see signs of long-term improvements.”

He continued: “The massive buying power of the major supermarkets seems to be able to dictate what products they require and, to a large extent, what price they will pay. There is a suspicion also that consumer preference is, in reality, the preference, prejudice and convenience of a few major supermarket buyers. If farmers are to survive they must meet standards, seek out and exploit market opportunities, guarantee continuity of supply and employ professional and modern marketing techniques. Severe single market competition is round the corner and the quality assurance concept with achievable animal health and environmental standards will help to protect and expand markets far better than savage cut-price competition. We must be more intent in trading up on quality basis than in piling high and selling cheap.”

Rodney Richardson from Maguiresbridge with the reserve champion, Mullaglass Elsa, at the Northern Ireland Charolais Club's April sale at the Automart, Portadown in 1991. Picture: Eddie Harvey/Farming Life archives