14 February 1997

ANNUS HORRIBILIS OVER

The encouraging news for the beef industry is that 1996 is over – and that there is some confidence prices for clean beef are sustainable at about 105-110p/kg. On the downside, clean cattle numbers may increase now that producers have adjusted their systems to finish cattle at under 30 months.

While cattle over 30 months have started entering the human food chain under the Beef Assurance Scheme, eligible carcasses must comply with strict criteria outlined by one producer in this supplement.

The industry has also to see the impact of the calf slaughter scheme on availability of finished cattle next autumn and on the suckler calf price.

Meanwhile, progress made towards lifting the export ban on British beef is slow. The governments certified herd scheme proposals to see beef from certain BSE-free carcasses taken for export raises the unwelcome prospect of a two-tier price system.

And the selective cull underway to speed lifting of the export ban is hitting some dairy herds hard and putting replacement stock at a premium. There is likely to be increased demand for beef breeding stock as well.

Some producers keen to improve traceability will change to rearing home-bred replacements and here the choice of breeds will be paramount – milkiness should be given priority when selecting breeds.

Top genetics will also be important as margins are squeezed – and this is also true for the dairy sector – which faces lower milk prices. Managing these high merit animals effectively also comes under the spotlight in this supplement.