UK Beef Losing Out To Foreign Export Drive

FARMING UK - Over 3,000 dairy beef bulls a week, and a growing number of weaned sucklers, are being lost to the domestic industry because finished cattle prices are not high enough to keep the animals here.
calendar icon 1 May 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

So says the National Beef Association which is alarmed that cattle which could be used to reduce the UK’s 20 per cent self-sufficiency gap are being sold to higher priced EU markets because offers from domestic beef buyers are not sufficiently attractive.

“It is an aggravating situation because an opportunity to build much needed domestic slaughter numbers emerged as soon as exports lifted Black and White bull calf prices and thousands of calves that have been previously shot because they had no value suddenly became available,” explained NBA chairman, Duff Burrell.

“It looks like this chance to fortify domestic supply structures is being ignored because the rearers and finishers we expected to snap up these calves as soon as they re-emerged on the market are saying that the current average just 180-185p per dwkg for -03, Holstein type carcases, is not enough to persuade them to commit to expansion.”

Dairy bull throughput at UK abattoirs was down 14 per cent between January and March this year compared with last and live exports are also expected to strip more high quality weaned suckler bulls for feeding in Spain and Italy if current price differentials with the UK market persist – which means next year’s slaughter figures could be lower too.

“More animals are beginning to be shipped out because exporters are able to outbid domestic competition and this is good news for suckled calf breeders because it puts more spice into store cattle sales,” said Mr Burrell.

“However it would be even better if domestic feeders had the confidence to compete and then we would not just have better returns for breeders but a higher volume of home produced beef moving onto the domestic market.”

“Unfortunately the message to both home based retailers and processors that if they do not create conditions in which more money can be paid for domestic cattle then more output will be lost either to export buyers, or as a result of more disillusioned beef farmers closing down their businesses, is still falling on deaf ears.”

“When decoupling first emerged as an industry issue in late 2003 we warned supermarkets and slaughterers that if they were not paying enough for breeders and finishers to cover their costs of production they would lose much needed beef, and cattle, to the export market as soon as it re-opened.”

“If more money was moving through the system the NBA would expect at least 200,000 more Black and White bull carcases to be sold on next years slaughter market and live suckler exports to be reduced to a trickle.”

“However it seems domestic players are blind to the supply advantages this would create for them and we regret their inability to accept that if prices are too low in this country then more of our live animals, stock they actually want and need, will be sold overseas,” Mr Burrell added.

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