A declining global beef production leading to increased exports and reduced imports to the UK augurs well for British cattle breeders - and finishers - believes Harrison & Hetherington sales director Scott Donaldson.
“The crux of the matter is numbers,” says Mr Donaldson, whose 25 years’ experience as an auctioneer in the livestock industry has seen numerous changes of fortune for UK beef producers.
“I am certain that producers who are prepared to stay in the industry for the long term will be rewarded. I don’t see beef going off the menu so the price to the consumer will have to go up,” he added.
Suckled calf producers who have the confidence to remain in the industry, Mr Donaldson says, must grasp the need for efficiency, in particular by looking in to herd health schemes in an attempt to improve productivity and to meet the requirements of buyers who increasingly demand cattle with a high health status, as well as investigating the use of better genetics.
Since the start of 2011, store cattle numbers have been similar to last year, but there are concerns that producers may have sold cattle earlier to avoid extra winter keep costs
While the decline in the national suckler herd appears to have halted, the number of dairy cows has fallen and production is having to meet the demands of the home market serviced by reduced imports as well as the opening of more export markets.
“Although the suckler cow herd seems to have bottomed out, one of the biggest changes in the red meat industry is the lack of imports coupled with the fact that we’re now exporting more beef because of re-opening markets,” he said.
“The demand at present is especially for cow beef and young bulls, we are now exporting cattle to Ireland rather than importing from the Irish so this has to force up the price of red meat in this country.
“Prospects for the Spring store sales look extremely good, as the finished cattle price rallies and feed prices ease slightly together with grazers waiting to purchase animals closer to turn out, and numbers being tight, store cattle sellers can look forward to a buoyant trade. I fear that unless store prices remain high to encourage suckler cow herds to maintain numbers, in the next year or two there will not be enough cattle to satisfy demand.
“The main obstacle is the costs involved in production - feed, fuel and fertiliser. The number of strong forward store cattle have been marginally less than last year as breeders sell cattle younger as a result of higher input costs.”
EBLEX figures show that beef and veal output fell by an average two per cent in major producing countries in 2009 – and figures not yet available for 2010 could see greater decline.
In the most recent bi-annual International Meat Market Review (IMMR) all major beef producing countries had similar reductions in production levels, with the exception of Argentina, attributed to reduction in breeding herds, resulting in high cow slaughterings with prime cattle slaughterings in decline. This applies especially to the United States and the EU.
In England, the June 2010 census showed suckler herd numbers have actually risen slightly, to 756,000, but the dairy herd, which supplies half of our beef, has fallen to 1,160,000. There was a 27 per cent fall in the English breeding herd between 1990 and 2009.
Against this trend, the World Meat Congress in Argentina was told last autumn that global meat consumption is expected to rise by 3.7 million tonnes by 2020, while other commentators predict a 5.5 million tonne deficit in meat supply as soon as 2015.
The opening of more non-EU markets last year for beef producers has already prompted an increase in prices for certain cuts and offal.
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