English beef producers can look forward to a healthier domestic
beef market balance over the coming year than at any time in
the past decade, according to the latest annual outlook from
the English Beef & Lamb Executive (EBLEX).
Over half a million cows are forecast to re-enter the food chain
in 2006 following the ending of the OTM scheme, producing an
extra 155,000 tonnes of beef. This is against the background
of strong UK demand for beef, declining prime cattle supplies,
an increasing EU import requirement and growing prospects for
Altogether the prospects are for a far more stable and sustainable
national beef market without the sort of damaging price volatility
seen in recent years.
On the face of it, the increase in beef coming onto the market
in the year - an extra 10,000 cattle/week, on average - appears
to carry considerable potential for disruption.
However, the 160,000 head/year decline in calf passport registrations
recorded by BCMS in 2005 - associated with lower retentions
of purebred dairy bulls following the removal of BSP - is
forecast to reduce 2006 prime beef supplies by over 40,000 tonnes;
and this despite the increase in average carcase weights recorded
over the past year.
As a result, overall UK beef production is expected to rise
by around 100,000 tonnes on 2005 to around 850,000 tonnes. The
fact that this remains substantially below the one million tonne-plus
level of domestic consumption underlines the considerable room
the market has to absorb the extra supplies without disruption.
All the more so since, even after the OTM rule change is taken
into account, the net EU-25 import requirement is set to rise
to fully 350,000 tonnes in 2006 on the back of declining continental
production; a situation which provides particular opportunities
for English exports once current restrictions are finally lifted.
Year-end estimates show overall UK beef imports falling encouragingly
in line with increased home production in 2005. However, at 24%
the proportion of imported beef sold at retail was an increase
on the 19% recorded in 2004.
With cow beef re-introduced into the food chain smoothly and
without consumer resistance since last November, there will clearly
no longer be any danger of seasonal shortages in domestic beef
At the same time, the progressive re-opening of the unrestricted
export market - hopefully from the early summer - seems
likely to ensure a healthier continual balance between supply
and demand, leading to greater market stability.
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