By Simon Wragg

MEAT buyers are looking at plans to remove the glut of calves expected to hit markets after the calf processing aid scheme ends in July.

This follows the announcement last week by meat processor Anglo Beef Producers that it is to start negotiating individual contracts with producers to supply dairy-bred cattle for manufacturing into mince.

ABP managing director Richard Cracknell says there is a demand for lean cattle under 12 months old and finished to 240kg carcass weight for manufacturing. Up to 25,000 dairy-bred animals a year could be needed.

Producers will agree a fixed margin for cattle based on the cost of production. These are likely to be tight to compete with imports and intervention beef which currently satisfy demand.

Mr Cracknell brushes off the suggestion ABP is looking to lock in cheap supplies against a possible shortfall of finished cattle later this year. But he admits as a commercial venture it is “looking to fix costs at a reasonable level”.

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster welcomes the move in principle if it displaces overseas supplies. The UK imports 24% of volume needed to meet demand and about 60% is used for manufacturing, he says.

Fear among producers that an influx of dairy-bred animals could distort prime cattle prices was “largely unfounded”, he says. The UK has a two-tier market and producers would benefit from satisfying demand for both prime and manufacturing beef.

Other processors may now follow ABPs lead. Midland Meat Packers procurement manager Tim Bastable says it is “thinking positively”.

But NFU officials will still want a disposal scheme in place to protect the welfare of unwanted, low value calves.