Spain, Italy and Portugal may all be potential southern European export markets for UK beef, but that’s where the similarity ends.

Each country has its own market requirements, so it will be up to UK farmers and processors to match the type of carcass, breed, age, weight, confirmation and fat levels required by each country.

According to Southern Counties Fresh Foods sales manager Matthew Barratt strong export markets have already been identified ranging from lean O grade carcasses for Spain to E2 grade carcasses for Italy.

But to meet these requirements farmers must now be more selective with their choice of stock.

With these opportunities in mind SCFF has already taken advantage of its integrated beef system, Blade South West, by putting in place a Continental heifer model as well as Aberdeen Angus systems dedicated to the Dutch market.

But these markets will not develop straight away and there is still plenty of work to be done on finalising agreements, reckons SAC beef specialist Gavin Hill.

“We have strong competition from other countries, so it’s important we start small with a top quality product.

For Scottish Aberdeen Angus beef there are possibilities for the Italian market, but nothing has been guaranteed,” he adds.

Improving communication with processors will, however, be vital, reckons Farmers Weekly’s beef farmer of the year Mike Powley.

“It’s vital you strike up good relations with your processor.

Unless you’re a large finishing unit with a dedicated supply, they won’t be looking to you as an export supplier.

“Tell processors what you have and what you are prepared to supply, you can then benefit from the feedback.”

And opportunities for live exports are also likely to be strong, says NBA chief executive Robert Forster.

“We have already seen the Republic of Ireland sell more than 8000 store cattle and weaned suckled calves to Spain and Italy, so we can expect similar interest in the UK.”

Hope is also on the horizon for dairy bred calves and Mr Forster predicts a strong interest in weaned calves at 10-12 weeks of age for dedicated EU finishing lots.

Cull cows with a good finish are also likely to attract export buyers from France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, he adds.

“Some time this summer I expect to see prices similar to that of the Republic of Ireland, averaging 155p/kg.”

chrissie.lawrence@rbi.co.uk