By Shelley Wrightand Ian Ashbridge

CALF REGISTRATIONS in Scotland rose in 2004, but numbers in England and Wales fell slightly, according to figures from the British Cattle Movement Service.

Total registrations in Scotland grew 1.5% to 635,500, with beef calf numbers growing 2.7% to about 530,000.

Some in the industry greeted the figures warmly, saying they helped to dispel earlier fears of a slump in beef production immediately after CAP reforms took effect.

Quality Meat Scotland”s industry information manager Stuart Ashworth said: “This sends out a very positive message to customers about future supplies of beef from the Scottish Red Meat industry.”

The figures also suggested the use of dairy bulls was declining in favour of beef-crossing breeds in some Scottish regions. “With the exception of the south-east, this suggests an increase in the availability of beef supplies from dairy beef-crosses in the future,” he said.

But others said the figures were not enough to draw conclusions on the effects of CAP reform.

A spokesman for NFU Scotland said the figures reflected the optimism in Scottish beef production, but added the full impacts of CAP reform would not be known for months or even years.

“Farmers will be looking at their businesses pretty brutally and seeking to reduce costs. But the marketplace needs to adapt as much as farmers will have to and beef farmers will need a fair market price.”

Figures published in coming months would help determine whether a decline in beef production was a reality, he added.

In England, registrations fell by about 2% to just over 1.8m head, while those in Wales fell by about 13,000 to 408,500. Calves registered against typical beef breeds continued to account for about 65% of total numbers.

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said the figures showed beef supplies in 2005 looked fairly stable. “The crucial thing will be what happens this year. With the reality of decoupling and exposure of costs, will beef farmers continue to breed cattle knowing current market returns?”

Some of the reduction could be attributed to the compounded contraction of the dairy sector due to milk quota restrictions and improved yields, he added.

“Slaughter figures for 2005 will tell us more and we”ll have a better idea of how many dairy bulls were put at the disposal of the beef sector.”

Arwyn Owen, director of agricultural policy at the Farmers” Union of Wales, said the 13,000 head drop in Welsh calf registrations may have been linked to dairy bull calf values.

“Finishing dairy bull calves is again looking uneconomical to many feeders, and some have been disposed of directly from the farm without being registered.”

ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk