While UK beef supplies are likely to tighten again towards the end of this year and into 2011, market prospects for the coming 12 months and beyond look decidedly mixed, according to the latest outlook from EBLEX, the industry body for beef and lamb levy payers.
The December 2009 Agricultural Survey recorded a further 2% annual decline in national dairy cow numbers, and continued reductions are expected in 2010 and 2011. In contrast, the beef breeding herd appears to be stabilising on the back of better store values, with noticeably lower levels of heifer disposals.
A marked increase in purebred dairy bull calf rearing is, however, projected to more than offset any decline in heifer disposals, pushing total slaughterings this year up by nearly 3% on 2009. At the same time, carcase weights have been higher for the year to date, although they are expected to fall back in the reminder of the year. Equally, cow and adult bull slaughterings are projected to continue increasing.
Overall supplies of UK beef in 2010 are, consequently, expected to be noticeably higher than originally forecast at the start of the year - around 5% up on 2009 levels. With imports of beef and beef products remaining around the same as 2009 and export growth restricted by less favourable sterling:euro exchange rates, the market fundamentals for the remainder of this year suggest a rather less encouraging producer price outlook than a year ago.
More positively, though, the declining national breeding herd is forecast to lead the national kill to fall back by 2% in 2011 putting it at a similar level to 2009. As a result UK beef production is also expected to fall back sharply next year to around 860,000 tonnes - the level originally predicted for 2010.
On the back of this decline in domestic production, EBLEX foresees an increase in imports, albeit to nowhere near the levels experienced up to 2008. It also anticipates further export growth compensating for any slowing in UK market demand brought on by national austerity measures. This should lead supplies available for consumption to fall back again.
The mixed beef outlook is further complicated by the year-on-year increase in calf registrations recorded in 2010 which seems likely to result in domestic supplies growing again from 2012 and reapplying the downward pressure on producer prices.
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