12 April 2002

Think demand chain, not supply

REALISM about returns from beef production in the UK is needed as it tries to compete with other countries which can rear calves at lower costs.

MLC beef and sheep scientist Duncan Pullar told delegates at the Mole Livestock Initiative meeting that the UK was one of the worlds highest cost countries for beef production. "It cost 30-40p/kg more to produce beef here than in the US and Australia, yet transport from those countries to the UK was only 10p/kg."

MLI aimed to give beef producers the chance to improve competitiveness on a national scale. Producers must change from thinking of a supply chain for beef to thinking of a demand chain driven by consumers, who want convenience, value, quality and food safety, he said.

At the retail end, convenience was taking over with far more shelf space for ready meals than fresh meat. The trend to eating out more had probably peaked and consumers were now buying ready meals for the freezer and eating at home again, added Dr Pullar.

Beef must come from a credible assurance scheme and be retailed in the manner and portion size demanded by the consumer. That was why carcass specs and pricing grids were increasingly strict.

He said the normal carcass weight range demanded was 280-320kg, which was largely determined by the need to have sirloins of the right shape when cut 12mm thick.

There was much that producers could do to achieve target weights and fat cover, said Dr Pullar, who went on to dispel some myths about conformation. "Abattoirs value consistency of size and fat cover, but are less concerned about conformation.

"Conformation is a bit of a sham and is over-rated. Some producers get too sucked in on conformation and risk finishing animals too fat to get better conformation. Some major abattoirs are now relaxing conformation penalties."

Use of high index bulls was one of the best ways to meet abattoir requirements, said Dr Pullar. Semen from top 1% bulls often cost no more than lower quality ones and some were easy-calving.

MLI manager and MVF director Brian Jennings confirmed the penalty for not reaching target slaughter weight could be £100-150 a head and a reduction of 45p/kg (from 95-50p/kg) for reared calves. &#42

Abattoirs are less concerned about conformation than many producers think, says Duncan Pullar.

&#8226 Cheaper in other countries.

&#8226 Conformation value questioned.

&#8226 Use high quality sires.