Beef shortage worries
By James Garner
BEEF producers and processors are becoming increasingly nervous about the shortage of home-produced beef, making the UK susceptible to unplanned cheap imports that force domestic prices down.
Among speakers and industry leaders expressing concern at the Beef 2002 conference at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, was Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association. He told delegates that beef farmers were under siege.
"We have no exports and we face a price squeeze. In 1995, beef prices of 230-240p/kg deadweight were common. Now, in Northern Ireland the average price is about 155p/kg, it is about 170p/kg in England and Wales and 176p/kg in Scotland.
"There has also been a dangerous drop in the number of animals as a result of BSE, and a 10% fall in the cattle herd due to foot-and-mouth. This means we face more unplanned imports of beef at a severe discount."
Rumours at the conference suggested that Argentinian imports were being sold into the food service sector at 50% discount to home-produced beef, putting tremendous pressure on prices.
One piece of good news for producers is that the countrys leading supermarkets are unlikely to stock South American beef, however price competitive it is.
Kevin Hawkins, director of communications for Safeway, said the beef wasnt good enough quality for Safeway to put its brand to it.
But he added: "We do need plenty of beef in the supply chain to support promotions – reluctantly we source it from Ireland, because we cant source enough from the UK to meet the need."
However, there are few solutions to boosting the UKs 60% self-sufficiency in beef production, unless the industry can convince dairy farmers to rear black-and-white bull calves.
Currently, 450,000 Holstein beef bulls are being slaughtered a year – a reservoir of UK-produced manufacturing grade beef being lost to the knacker-man.
Blade Farming, the south-west beef-finishing franchise business, says there is plenty of demand for finishing dairy-bred bulls. The company is offering up to £25 a bull calf on forward contracts for the year. Blades Richard Phelps considered this a realistic all-year round price that made it worthwhile for dairy farmers to rear calves. *