Suckler cows will move off the hill as part of the exodus of stock from the uplands.

They will move to land switched to grass from arable cropping, but even the beef cow in this new location will have to be redesigned to stay profitable.

In a pre-event conference address of mixed messages, and one often in direct contrast to the positive predictions from EBLEX/MLC, agricultural consultant Peter Cook pulled no punches when he considered the high costs of producing beef from the suckler herd.

“The suckler cow has to be redesigned.

And by that I mean she has to be made to fit the system and not the other way round.

That is the challenge facing suckled calf producers who have let the cow take control of their businesses.

“Suckler cows have become high cost in terms of buildings, slurry and bedding.

They demand large areas of land to provide vast amounts of silage for winter and to graze them in summer.

And all this is to produce a calf which will take another two years to leave any profit as a prime animal.”

Mr Cook said beef producers must look very closely at their costs and set themselves challenges to cut those costs.

“Ideally, we need a cow which doesn’t need to be housed, can be managed on a system which cuts slurry production and reduces labour demand.

A tall order you may say, but the truth is that today’s suckler cows have high maintenance costs.”

Mr Cook said the redesigned cow of the future would be bred from parents with relevant bull and dam EBV traits becoming a primary consideration.

“The modern cow has to be easy calving and if she has to be housed in the winter she must go inside fat so she can cope on a lower intake of feed.

Having her two condition scores higher at housing will save 3t of silage.

And the new cow has to live longer and have a good temperament.”

He said farmers wanted to know how quickly the SFP would decline and by how much?

“I urge farmers to plan for a steady cut in SFP with 25% taken off over the next five years.

It’s a time for financial discipline, but my long-term advice is to plan your businesses for all payments to be tied to environmental and rural development compliance.”

Mr Cook was convinced that stock production would move off the hills and into the lowlands as a consequence of the new emphasis on environmental support.

“It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. With payments decoupled this movement is inevitable and we will see more arable land converted to grass. Be ready.

UK livestock farming is relocating,” said Mr Cook.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com