Calf prices crash and worse could come in December
By Tim Relf
CALF prices have plummeted, sparking fears of a mass-disposal problem after the governments slaughter scheme disappears next month.
A national calf care crisis could be looming, says Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association.
Prices have already fallen to "basement" levels, with fears of a further collapse after the scheme goes on Nov 30, with government hopes dashed that 250,000 would be bought annually by bobby calf slaughterers.
Heifer values have already been hard-hit, with top-notch Continental crosses averaging only £20 early this week and smaller Hereford and Angus struggling to make half that.
"Some breeders just cannot afford to put female calves before bobby veal buyers by sending them to auction and a growing number of valueless animals are being dispatched at farm-level instead," says Mr Forster.
Bull calf prices remain precarious, with great uncertainty over how the trade will go. A recent survey by consultants Laurence Gould at the South West Dairy Event found nearly half of the farmers asked thought values would fall, though 20% said no change was likely and 31% said some rise could be seen.
Abattoir boss Andrew Chitty is one of those in optimistic mood, confident a market exists for some of the meat that otherwise might have gone in to the scheme. Its still better, he says, than product imported from southern hemisphere countries. "We can take that market back."
And with state-of-the-art traceability systems in place, this meat can also go abroad once the export ban is lifted, he says.
Abattoir giant ABP agrees. "But its no use us saying we will go out and get the market unless we know the material is in the pipeline," said a spokesman. "Killing calves now is like selling the family silver."
ABP is expected to announce a scheme for farmers in the new year, aimed at providing an outlet for good calves which in the past would have been slaughtered.