If slaughterers drop the price of prime cattle again it will demonstrate beyond doubt that they hold farmers in contempt, the National Beef Association has warned.

“The time has come to draw a line,” said NBA chairman Duff Burrell.

“Market prices are nine per cent lower than this time last year and income from male cattle is down by at least £200, or 25 per cent, a head if the now defunct Slaughter Premium and Beef Special Premium claims are also taken into account.

“Finishers are at their wits end because of the losses they are making, breeders are in dread of calf prices at this autumn’s sales and large parts of the production sector are already in dire danger of being dismantled.”

Mr Duff said the word on farms, and at markets, was that if slaughterers pulled down finished cattle prices by another penny it will be taken as confirmation that home produced beef cattle are no longer wanted.

“The desperate mood among finishers and breeders must be taken seriously, “said Mr Burrell.

“They feel that their efforts to stick with beef cattle after decoupling are being mocked by the recent, regular price falls that have driven them into serious levels of loss.

“Over the last 12 months cattle buyers and beef retailers have ignored repeated warnings that farmers will not accept negative prices and another drop last week was very clearly a step too far.”

“If the trade is serious about maintaining UK supplies it must show that is the case by resisting pressure, from whatever source, to drop purchase prices again.”

 Mr Burrell said if the warning was ignored farmers would take it as a clear message that they should get off the beef production treadmill.

  “The association’s view is that if processors and retailers cannot support home produced beef then farmers are mugs to stick with it.

“There is none of the much vaunted partnership in current trading arrangements because producers are the only ones not making money.

“Farmers are telling us that no one with any businesses sense stays with an enterprise that is clearly losing money.”