Lower beef production meets reduced demand

UK beef production is set to fall by 3.5% this year to 880,000t, and the herd will continue to contract, says AHDB Beef and Lamb.

Calf registrations are predicted to fall again, following a 48,000-head drop last year, says its latest beef outlook. This is expected to have an effect on beef production from June.

Having started the year 10p/kg deadweight lower than in 2018, the seasonal spring beef price dip was accentuated by Brexit uncertainty and a rise in slaughterings – particularly of heifers – prompting a steep fall from early February to mid-March.

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While prices have risen since then, they still have some way to go to catch up with year-earlier levels, However they have at last reached the five-year average mark.

Deadweight prices for steers in the week ended 11 May saw a 1.8p/kg rise to average 349.4p/kg on 11% fewer cattle.

UK beef in 2019

  • Lower calf registrations will hit production from June
  • Herd reduction continues
  • Lower exports
  • Slightly lower imports
  • All assuming no change in trade relations with EU

Demand falling

While supply is contracting, so is domestic demand. Consumers spent £536m on fresh and frozen beef in the first quarter of this year – 5% less than in January-March 2018.

Carcass weights had been expected to fall this year because of more females being slaughtered and a rise in the proportion from the dairy herd.

However, they have risen slightly because last year’s forage shortage prompted higher concentrate feeding.

Longer term, carcass weights are expected to fall because of a higher contribution from the dairy herd, coupled with a rise in the proportion of native breed cattle.

Exports and imports

UK beef exports are forecast to fall by 5% this year to 139,000t, while imports will drop by 2% to 438,000t. The main reason for the fall in imports is lower Irish production.

However, AHDB cautions that Poland’s beef production and exports are rising and one of its main destinations, Turkey, has recently stopped taking Polish beef, which will push this supply back into other European markets.

Lower domestic production and, in particular, lower availability of cow beef, is the main reason for a predicted drop in exports.

The AHDB points out that the forecasts assume no material change in trade relations with the EU. Read the full report online.