Welsh farmers not only have to produce high-quality branded red meat products – they have to back those responsible for promoting them.
Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly’s rural affairs minister, told delegates attending the autumn conference of Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales) that they could not compete with imports on commodity markets.
They had to produce something special and market it well in the UK and abroad.
Though exporting was no panacea for the industry’s ills, it was vital to develop sales of Welsh lamb outside southern Europe.
Recent visits made to EU countries had convinced him that there was widespread strong demand for Welsh beef that could be exploited once barriers were lifted.
“But our biggest market lies over the Severn Bridge,” Mr Jones reminded his audience.
“We need to tempt our customers over the border.
I feel HCC has already achieved real success with work undertaken with multiple retailers and with local butchers.”
Prys Morgan, HCC’s industry development manager, told the conference that the company would do all it could to help producers meet whatever specifications buyers demanded.
Something as simple as training producers how to select stock for slaughter for key markets could have a big impact on farm gate returns and the quality of carcasses available to the meat trade.
Meanwhile, Kevin Kinsella, director of livestock at the Irish Farmers Association, condemned the “double standards” set by supermarkets.
While they made British and Irish producers jump through quality and traceability hoops, they were prepared to buy beef from Brazil where there were serious deficiencies.
“Growth promoter Clenbuterol does not require a prescription for purchase, there is no specific legislation on the use of veterinary medicines or treatment records kept by farmers,” he said.
“The control of residues in animals and products cannot be considered as complying or being equivalent to EU standards.”
And poor cattle identification and movement controls undermined the possibility of tracing cattle back to farm of origin.
Mr Kinsella also advised producers that it was possible to boost returns from cull cows entering the food chain.
Putting on some finish could add value by “jumping a classification grade or two”, but a close eye must be kept on the cost of doing it.
Moving from P2 to O4 could earn a 30p/kg premium.
He said that cows could gain 1kg/head a day on reasonable quality silage and 3 to 4kg/head of concentrates.
Because cows had intake capacities 25%-30% greater than beef cattle it was possible to exploit low cost feeds, including brewers’ grains, distillers’ grains and citrus pulp, he added.