The English Beef and Lamb Executive is hailing the light at the end of the marketing tunnel for English beef producers.

Robust and growing domestic demand was at the centre of a raft of factors helping to buoy up the market, EBLEX claimed.

Consumption is forecast to hit 1.06m tonnes of beef this year, with production growing slightly to 860,000t.

But despite an 11% increase in the number of heifers destined for slaughter, prime cattle supplies for the year are expected to fall 2% to 2.22m head.

Supplies of cow beef are also shorter than some predicted because injured animals are excluded from the food chain.

Only 430,000 are expected to go for human consumption in 2006.

Despite the resumption in beef exports, imports to the manufacturing sector are expected to drop by 25% to 230,000t.

Meanwhile, high quality imports from South America are limited until at least September due to the Foot-and-Mouth outbreak.

And Irish prices are almost on a par with those in Britain, creating the prospect of a steadily developing export market from May.

EBLEX says this should lead to more stable summer and autumn prices.