Anthony Gibson, south-west director of the NFU, said a big part of the region’s economy depended on red meat production, which would only survive if profitability improved.

“There is an awful lot at stake,” he added.

Intensive finishing units were losing 89/head on average; lowland suckler herds almost double that.

“We are miles away from a profitable situation.”

Beef production could move east where grain was cheap and plentiful, rather than remain in the costly south-west, Mr Gibson said.

As producers could never compete with imports on price alone, the south-west had to establish grass-fed beef as a distinctive premium product.

Food chain partnerships were also vital to underpin confidence, said Mr Gibson.

“Forward price contracts will help, but trust and transparency are missing.”

Lachie Maclachlan of feed specialist JGW Thomas & Son urged all producers to re-evaluate their businesses.

The ultimate driver had to be improved profitability, whether that meant rearing black-and-white heifers or using indigenous suckler cows rather than Continental breeds.

Herefords and Friesians were much more efficient at converting forage.

“A 100-cow Hereford or Friesian herd requires 750-875t of silage, compared with 875-1000t for Limousin crosses,” Mr Maclachlan said.