GOOD news was overshadowed by mounting fury from farmers battling plummeting beef prices as the agricultural industry gathered for the 156th Great Yorkshire Show.

Environment Minister Owen Paterson came to the show to announce a £19m investment in rural businesses, ploughing money into farming and forestry to support around 5,000 jobs across the country. But he could offer nothing for beef farmers who protested about rock-bottom farm gate prices, which have fallen by more than 60 pence a kilo in the past year, threatening Britain's favourite Sunday roast.

Some beef farmers are losing £200 on every animal, leaving many struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, prices in the shops have increased by 46 pence per kilo, despite retailers backing for British beef in the wake of the horse-gate scandal.

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Mr Paterson said the new investment, which will bring an estimated £4m into Yorkshire and the North-East, will be a major boost for small businesses.

“They are the cornerstone of the rural economy,” said Mr Paterson.

However, he said he had no easy answers for the beef industry which is being hit by falling demand and increased imports, particularly from Ireland.

"We need to use new technology, increase exports and reduce imports,” he said, urging the industry to explore the Russian and American markets.

“It is up to us to open up the markets. We have superb beef, we have the best livestock we should be exporting more,” he added.

But Meurig Raymond, President of the National Farmers Union, said the gap between the price in the shop and the farm price is now £1.20.

“Not only are we seeing large volumes of beef being imported, most notably from Ireland, but retailers are doing very little to help consumers differentiate between British and Irish beef in the shops," he said.

“We have already gone through this with the dairy sector, so it is heartbreaking to see yet more farmers at the mercy of a market that simply does not function properly.”

The NFU is calling on the Government to launch a code of conduct to ensure farmers are treated fairly. They say more than 3,000 farmers across the region have been hit by new specifications brought in overnight by processors which apply drastic price cuts if animals do not exactly meet what they want.

Mr Raymond added: "The region's farmers produced £147m worth of beef last year and are famous the world over for the quality of their produce.

"Our challenge is to make sure their future is secured for the long-term and that consumers have the opportunity they want and deserve to back British beef and British farming.”