A former NFU livestock board chairman has called on farmers to “rise up” and monitor the ports for cheap beef coming into this country amid falling producer prices.
Devon livestock farmer Richard Haddock is advocating a return to a “Port Watch”-type scheme to monitor the ports for consignments of foreign beef coming into this country.
Mr Haddock, who was known as the “NFU Rottweiler”, led the fuel protests in the 1990s and he campaigned against the government’s foot-and-mouth policy.
He accused the major supermarkets of betraying British farmers by using red meat – like milk – as a “loss leader”.
And he questioned retailers’ claims that they are backing British livestock farmers and buying more British beef when foreign imports of cheap were “flooding these shores”.
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Until recently he said cull cow prices were very strong, but they have been dropping 50-80p/kg since Christmas.
“I would like to see us revert back to the BSE days and get farmers back to the docks to monitor what’s happening when the sailings are coming in,” he said.
“Farmers are unable to cover their costs and are leaving the beef sector where they can.”
Over three years, Mr Haddock has reduced his herd of suckler cows from 350 to zero, due to a loss of margin and the crippling effect of bovine TB.
He said many farmers in the South West were reducing suckler cow numbers from 120-150 to 15-25 cows – and others were getting out completely.
“There are two main reasons: the beef industry is in freefall and TB is devastating herds,” said Mr Haddock, who farms cattle in south Devon and runs Churston Farm Shop near Brixham.
“Yet the major retailers have stood up and said they are buying British and backing British farmers. Somebody is speaking with a forked tongue.”
He urged the NFU to apply pressure on supermarkets and processors to raise their farmgate prices as beef farmers were struggling with many choosing to exit the industry.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said: “We are aware of a slight increase in Irish supply, but it is not ending up on retail shelves based on the information we have received.
“That said, we do want the retailers to use some of the increased margins they are making on beef.
“At the moment, the farmer is now getting about 51% of the total retail price, whereas 12 months ago, we were getting 58%. We are calling on the retailers to substantiate their claims about supporting British farmers.”
Mr Sercombe agreed with Mr Haddock that beef farmers would leave the industry if they cannot make a profit.
But he added: “Blockading the ports is not the answer. The relevant authorities are monitoring imports and there is no evidence to say they are being massively increased.