7 June 1996

How to get the trust back for dairy-bred beef

Beef originating from suckler cow herds is likely to curry more favour with consumers as it is produced extensively and in a welfare-friendly manner. This special review highlights the suckler cows attributes and offers pointers on managing herds to maximum gain with the help of modern technology. Edited by Rebecca Austin

GOVERNMENT should set up a task force and consult beef producers on developing the suckler cow industry after the BSE crisis.

So says Robert Whitcombe of Berry Farm, Liss, Hants. As a direct result of a world-wide loss of confidence in British beef, Mr Whitcombe lost a US semen export order on his South Devon bull, Highgate Radical.

"I can make more money producing Holstein Friesian beef intensively than selling South Devon beef finished extensively," says Mr Whitcombe, who runs 60 pedigree South Devons, 90 bull beef and 50 Border Leicesters across 130ha (320 acres), 57ha (140 acres) of which are arable.

"But consumers might remain wary of dairy-bred beef. So we must develop a scheme which puts the suckler industry and beef produced at grass one step above beef produced as a by-product of the dairy industry."

Mr Whitcombe suggests introducing an incentive which encourages more producers to move into suckled beef production. That could be achieved by increasing the suckler cow premium further and/or introducing a suckled calf premium.

"New entrants should also receive either subsidised or free advice to help get them established – as was available from ADAS in days gone by," suggests Mr Whitcombe.

"Lobby your local MP and NFU representative so the government does not wash its hands of our industry once it has finished with the disposal system. Something good must come out of this crisis."