29 May 1998

Fixed-cost cuts are beef goal

By Allan Wright

BEEF producers should stop using dairy cross heifers as herd replacements and work harder to reduce fixed costs, according to SACs Basil Lowman.

"No farmer knows the true cost of producing 1kg of beef and neither does anyone else. It is too difficult to separate grazing and silage costs between beef and sheep, even on the college farms. But fixed costs are a different matter and must be tackled in the new economic climate for beef," he said during a preview for Beef 98.

"Machinery has been used to replace labour and that was fine when beef prices were high. But the stage has been reached where all the subsidy payments are being soaked up by fixed costs and farmers must question every input and the return it brings," he said.

It was old-fashioned to look at things as high or low cost. A feed could appear cheap but when it gave no performance then there was no return at all.

Quality production would become more and more important. "One glance at Agenda 2000 shows a future support price of 130p/kg. At the moment, I cant get that for Holstein bulls but I can get 225p for pure Aberdeen Angus steers. We must get more of our beef into that category," he said.

One way was to stop using dairy cross replacements. "Most replacements are now half Holstein and have many disadvantages.The Holstein crossed with large terminal sire breeds gives too big a suckler cow. Dairy farmers select for milk and the conformation of Holsteins continues to fall. Most produce two thirds more milk than the British Friesian of 30 years ago and, as a result, more suckler cows from this route are culled early because of udder difficulties.

"All these potential problems can be avoided by using only beef breeds to produce future herd replacements. It is also worth breeding your own stock for health and traceability reasons and because heifers are relatively low value in the finished beef market," said Dr Lowman.

&#8226 Beef 98 is being organised for the National Cattle Association by the Scottish Beef Council. It is being held on the farm of SBC chairman John Cameron at Balbuthie, Colinsburgh, Fife.

BEEF PRIORITIES

&#8226 Control overhead costs

&#8226 Aim to improve quality

&#8226 Home-bred replacements

Improving beef quality will depend on using beef breeds to produce herd replacements, and on moving away from dairy-bred Holstein crosses.

BEEFPRIORITIES

&#8226 Control overhead costs.

&#8226 Aim to improve quality.

&#8226 Home-bred replacements.