2014-01-27   facebook twitter rss

Should Farmers Believe the Supermarkets?

“Should farmers believe anything the Supermarkets tell them?” asks Chris Mallon, Chief Executive of the National Beef Association, here he gives us an update on the situation.

Yet again finishers are wondering what happened to the demand for their cattle. A year ago consumers found out their cheap beef was horse, resulting in leading retailers telling farmers they were backing British beef, they had learnt their lesson and local produce was their goal.


Almost a year on and the promises seem hollow to those finishing British cattle. Prices have been on the slide for weeks and those producing under schemes such as Angus are being faced with long waiting lists. Retailers are putting pressure on processors to cut costs and cattle finishers are the first target.

The lure of cheap imported beef once again seems to be more important than supply chain integrity. After Ireland, Poland is the largest exporter of meat to the European market and already Irish-based processors are active there. The labelling of country of origin is important to the consumer and farmer, and when meat is an ingredient it also needs to show country of origin.

Costs to finish cattle remain high, and although concentrate prices have come back, this is only a relatively recent incident in the lifespan of the cattle ready at the moment, when these cattle were calves and young stores concentrates were at record prices.

Beef farming is not like pig or poultry production, cattle farmers cannot completely change their production systems in a matter of weeks. From getting the cow in calf to getting the calf to anywhere near a slaughter weight will take at least 24 months for bulls and 33 months for steers. This is a long-term game with few shortcuts.

Angus beef schemes are being operated by many meat plants. This was in response to supposed retailer demand and commitment to native breeds, yet those farmers dedicating their system to producing are already been penalised by long waiting lists and reduced premiums.

Again it takes at least two years for these animals to reach slaughter weights, and only steers and heifers are eligible for the bonus. Will the processors and retailers stand by their bonus if large numbers are submitted for slaughter two years hence? The producer is reacting to what retailers and processors are saying they want and it seems once we have the goal posts are moved.

We all know that imported beef is steadily entering our market; no matter where it comes from it is having a detrimental effect on our price. Supermarket loyalty to British producers and the processors genuinely using British produce seems to have been short-lived.

Tesco, one of the UK’s biggest retailers maintained in April 2013 that they were “bringing food closer to home” and “building better relationships with farmers”. At the moment the relationship needs counselling before all trust is lost.


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link National Beef Association Beef Industry Update
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