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16 November 2001




PROVISIONAL UK June census figures indicated that only Northern Ireland escaped a 6% fall in total cattle numbers.

The biggest change was the 16% drop in suckler cow numbers in Wales, which compared with 11% in England and 5% in Scotland. The GB dairy herd also shrank by over 5%, while an allocation of quota from Brussels and transfers from the mainland allowed 4% growth of the Ulster herd.

The potential supply situation has continued to evolve as about 800,000 cattle have been slaughtered as a result of foot-and-mouth and movement restrictions.

Duncan Sinclair, the senior MLC economic analyst responsible for beef, estimates that 180,000 dairy cows and 140,000 beef cows were killed on infected and contiguous farms or for welfare reasons.

He expects the next census in December to show 8-9% declines in dairy and suckler cow numbers, and he predicts an 11% fall in total prime cattle slaughterings in 2001.

The long-term nature of beef production means recovery will be relatively slow and output will be reduced over the next two years. Future supplies will also be influenced by herd restructuring on dairy farms in response to improved cow yields, disappointing margins and the availability of replacement heifers.

Suckler herd operators will also react to changes in the Suckler Cow Premium Scheme, the 4% decline in the UK Beef Special Premium and other proposed changes to beef industry support.

Mr Sinclair forecasts that UK beef production will fall to 589,000t next year while consumption rises by 13,000t to 929,000t. Imports are expected to increase by 70,000t to 340,000t compared with 205,000t in 2000.

Mr Sinclair is advising producers they need to concentrate on quality to compete with imports on the home market, and to encourage exports. This means careful selection of replacement heifers and bulls for slaughtered out suckler herds.

He is also concerned about the number of beef cross calves being shot on dairy farms because auctions are closed and says it is a terrible shame this quality production potential is being lost.

However, he is confident a strong UK beef industry can emerge from recent crises, but producers must focus on efficient management and product quality.

"An 11% fall in total prime cattle slaughtering is expected for 2001" – Duncan Sinclair.

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26 December 1997


ITS been a year of two halves for beef farmers – bad and bad. Unfortunately, the outlook for 1998 isnt any better. According to the Meat and Livestock Commission, finished steer values are set to spend much of the next 12 months at between 90p/kg and 95p/kg lw.

There probably wont be the big seasonal variation seen in 1997, however, when values rose – contrary to the seasonal norm – in the summer.

Taking its toll on prices will be the on-going absence of an export market, although a "token" amount could leave Northern Ireland under the certified herd scheme in 1998, reckons the MLC.

Volumes slumped

Volumes heading into intervention stores have also slumped, as British traders – always wary of the process – have seen green £ revaluations leave tenders over-priced when converted to ecus.

On the demand side, beef is set to build on 1997s 14% rise with a 2% increase to 840,000t in the year ahead.

This comes against a backdrop of falling cattle supplies, with a 4% decline in prime slaughterings to 2.17m expected. This reflects the contraction in the dairy herd as better genetics prompts higher average yields per cow. At the same time, lower suckled calf and cull cow values will lead to contraction in the suckler herd.

Also impacting on supplies will be the calf processing aid scheme which, over the last 12 months, has taken about 600,000 calves out of the equation. Of these, about 10% were beef-bred animals.

As the new year opens, farmers should aim to reduce the number of prime cattle ending up in the over-thirty-month-scheme.

The current figure of about 1000 a week is, says the MLC, "disappointingly high".

Meanwhile, the industry is set to face extra charges, among them the removal of the rendering subsidy. Predictions put the additional cost these represent at £38 per animal slaughtered.

Income from subsidies will also fall, following this years green £ revaluations. Beef special premium rates for steers and young bulls are predicted to be £84.32 and £104.70/head respectively, with a suckler cow premium of £112.40/head. Extensification premium should be £28, with £40/head paid to those adopting a "super-extensification" policy.

For many, 1998 will also be a year of two halves – very bad and very bad.n

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