Farm leaders have said the government and food industry must help to reverse the decline in suckler cow numbers by giving the right sort of signals on pricing and regulation.

The call has been made at the start of Great British Beef Week, organised by Ladies in Beef , which launched on St George’s Day (23 April).

The NFU said the UK was the fourth largest producer of beef in Europe, but production had fallen by around 4% in recent times.

To reverse this trend the NFU is calling for consumers, retailers and government to back British farming and play their part.

The union said it wanted to see more investment and longer-term relationships in the beef supply chain, British beef clearly labelled on the supermarket shelves and the stranglehold of red tape removed from the sector.

Environmental schemes should be tailored to support grazed livestock and rural development programmes introduced to encourage productive and competitive farm businesses, it added.

There also should be a commitment from government to seriously address TB in all species.

Charles Sercombe, NFU livestock board chairman, said: “Around half of our beef comes from the suckler herd.

“These herds are a vital part of our livestock production system with long-term cycles of around three years. But cow numbers have been gradually falling. This week we are highlighting the need for government and the food industry to ensure we have more long-term investment and the type of regulations and market signals that are targeted to reverse the current decline.

“Consumers tell us they want to eat more British produce and that provenance is important to them. One of the most interesting developments we’ve seen is the increased demand for native breeds of cattle such as Shorthorn, Angus and Hereford beef. Farmers have responded to this demand and adapted their systems accordingly.

“Many are embracing new technology, from ultrasound and genomics in breeding programmes through to computer modelling and precision farming. But having the long-term confidence to invest is paramount to the future success of our beef sector and this comes from getting a framework where British beef farmers can run profitable businesses.”