Welsh farmers must back those responsible for promoting their high-quality branded red meat, delegates at Hybu Cig Cymru’s (Meat Promotion Wales) autumn conference were told.

Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly’s rural affairs minister, said farmers could not expect to compete with imports on commodity markets.

They had to produce something special and market it well in the UK and abroad.

Though exporting was no panacea for the industry’s ills, it was vital to develop sales of Welsh lamb outside southern Europe.

Recent visits made to EU countries had convinced him that there was widespread strong demand for Welsh beef that could be exploited once barriers were lifted.

“But our biggest market lies over the Severn Bridge,” Mr Jones reminded his audience. “We need to tempt our customers over the border.

“I feel HCC has already achieved real success with work undertaken with multiple retailers and with local butchers.”

Prys Morgan, HCC’s industry development manager, told the conference that the company would do all it could to help producers meet whatever specifications buyers demanded.

Something as simple as training producers how to select stock for slaughter for key markets could have a big impact on farm gate returns and the quality of carcasses available to the meat trade.

Meanwhile, Kevin Kinsella, director of livestock at the Irish Farmers Association, condemned the “double standards” set by supermarkets.

While they made British and Irish producers jump through quality and traceability hoops, they were prepared to buy beef from Brazil where there were serious deficiencies.

Mr Kinsella also advised producers that it was possible to boost returns by finishing cull cows entering the food chain.

Moving from P2 to O4 could earn a 30p/kg premium, will costs could be contained by exploiting low-cost feeds, like brewers’ grains and citrus pulp, he added.