16 November 2001




PROVISIONAL UK June census figures indicated that only Northern Ireland escaped a 6% fall in total cattle numbers.

The biggest change was the 16% drop in suckler cow numbers in Wales, which compared with 11% in England and 5% in Scotland. The GB dairy herd also shrank by over 5%, while an allocation of quota from Brussels and transfers from the mainland allowed 4% growth of the Ulster herd.

The potential supply situation has continued to evolve as about 800,000 cattle have been slaughtered as a result of foot-and-mouth and movement restrictions.

Duncan Sinclair, the senior MLC economic analyst responsible for beef, estimates that 180,000 dairy cows and 140,000 beef cows were killed on infected and contiguous farms or for welfare reasons.

He expects the next census in December to show 8-9% declines in dairy and suckler cow numbers, and he predicts an 11% fall in total prime cattle slaughterings in 2001.

The long-term nature of beef production means recovery will be relatively slow and output will be reduced over the next two years. Future supplies will also be influenced by herd restructuring on dairy farms in response to improved cow yields, disappointing margins and the availability of replacement heifers.

Suckler herd operators will also react to changes in the Suckler Cow Premium Scheme, the 4% decline in the UK Beef Special Premium and other proposed changes to beef industry support.

Mr Sinclair forecasts that UK beef production will fall to 589,000t next year while consumption rises by 13,000t to 929,000t. Imports are expected to increase by 70,000t to 340,000t compared with 205,000t in 2000.

Mr Sinclair is advising producers they need to concentrate on quality to compete with imports on the home market, and to encourage exports. This means careful selection of replacement heifers and bulls for slaughtered out suckler herds.

He is also concerned about the number of beef cross calves being shot on dairy farms because auctions are closed and says it is a terrible shame this quality production potential is being lost.

However, he is confident a strong UK beef industry can emerge from recent crises, but producers must focus on efficient management and product quality.

"An 11% fall in total prime cattle slaughtering is expected for 2001" – Duncan Sinclair.

See more