Beef and dairy farmers will soon have a new export opportunity for their calves with the formation of a new air and sea shipping firm.

Headed by former veal producer Tony Clifton of Veal Cymru, Calfco will export live calves to the Continent without requiring farmers to pay for the service.

“Farmers are very reluctant to pay for a ferry service – we want them to know that there is an alternative,” he said.

The firm would operate the highest possible welfare standards, including air-conditioned transporters with water drinkers and satellite tracing, said Mr Clifton.

“The Europeans no longer want veal meat, they want live calves as they use the entire carcass – the leather is very prized and there is a huge market for the offal.”

Before the export ban was imposed 10 years ago, veal exports accounted for £10m to the Welsh economy alone, said Mr Clifton.

“We want to regain our share of that.”

However, European buyers would not commit to longer term agreements unless the UK government changed its export rules to make the market more workable.

“The government is interfering with international trade – the market is there to buy these calves, but if we can’t guarantee them a consistent supply at a competitive price then it’s gone.”

DEFRA had to give approval for multiple calf pick-ups from collection centres, said Mr Clifton, otherwise it would be impossible to put together a full load.

It was also essential that it reduced the processing time for export applications and journey plan approvals, he added.

And unless DEFRA allowed exporters to buy from auction markets, it would spell the end for markets and beef finishers alike.

“We will be moving on from exporting dairy calves to beef calves – and if they all have to come straight to a collection centre where will the beef farmer buy his calves?

These silly rules make it very difficult for us to operate economically.”

Calfco hopes to be in operation by the middle of June.

olivia.cooper@rbi.co.uk