MATCHING LABOUR, machinery and other fixed costs with cattle numbers to ensure lowest unit costs of production will be beef producers” single biggest task in ensuring a profitable future.

At the conference, National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster reminded delegates that about 40% of overheads will stick irrespective of stock numbers. “A powerful incentive against destocking without adjusting overheads.

” He said that rather than subsidising slaughterers, retailers and consumers, NBA would prefer producers invested in better cow fertility, calf breeding and feeding facilities.

“Finishers could save 180/head in feed, labour and housing by slaughtering steers at 18 months old rather than 24, saving about 30/head a month.” Animals with better natural growing ability, better feed conversion potential and genes aimed at broader backs, longer loins and bigger backsides could get away even earlier, he added.

“For hill producers this may mean bringing cows in later and fatter off grass, feeding less silage over winter and turning them out earlier and skinnier onto pastures that would normally be locked up for silage.

” Others may contemplate contract wintering, along with other herds on lowland cereal farms where cheaper grain, straw, silage and accommodation are available, said Mr Forster.

“Some breeders could form partnerships with east coast finishers using potatoes and other vegetable/root crop waste by arranging dual ownership and income from cattle sent for slaughter.”