BRITONS SPENT a record £2bn on beef and lamb in 2004, following robust sales growth that outstripped expectations, according to statistics from Taylor Nelson Sofres.

The English Beef and Lamb Executive hailed the 4.4% growth in beef sales and 8% growth in lamb sales as “extremely heartening”, as beef sales broke the £1.5bn sales barrier and lamb jumped ahead to £551m.

But Kevin Pearce, the NFU‘s livestock advisor, said that farm income had not increased at the same pace as retail sales.

“While sales are up, value is not finding its way back to farm gate prices, and we are still operating at a price level that makes farmers look hard at beef production as a viable business,” he said.

“In a decoupled world where market prices dictate returns, it is vital that farmers make a profit margin on beef and lamb. To continue to sustain growth, there needs to be an increase in farm gate prices.”

Retail price inflation was behind the lions share of sales growth, and when this is stripped out, sales volumes were up just 1% and 3% respectively for beef and lamb.

Finished cattle prices have started the year up at 196p/kg deadweight, but they need to rise by at least 50p/kg to make production viable without subsidy support, said National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster.

Lamb prices have also been flat at 253p/kg/dw.

“It is encouraging when you look at the demand side for beef in the UK: In sales comparison terms, we‘re back up to 1988 levels before everyone had taken notice of BSE,” said Mr Forster.

“But we have to get more of this consumer interest back to the farmer by sparkling up the way we present beef.”

With low per capita lamb consumption in Europe and rising beef imports, there was tremendous opportunity for further growth, he finished.

sam.fortescue@rbi.co.uk