Dairy-bred beef shortage looms

By James Garner

THERE could be severe beef shortages in 12 to 18 months time unless MAFF takes action to help calf rearers move stock on to finishing units, warns the National Beef Association.

Movement restrictions caused by foot-and-mouth disease controls mean that calf numbers are building on dairy units.

NBA chief executive Robert Forster warns that this could lead to a serious downturn in meat production from the dairy/beef sector from the back end of 2002.

The Meat and Livestock Commissions Duncan Sinclair agrees there will be a shortage, but believes suckler cow replacement policy will stifle beef supply in the short term.

“Inevitably we will be producing less beef for the next two to three years. A whole generation of heifers that would normally have been slaughtered will now be kept on as breeding replacements.”

But he adds that supply will be maintained through this summer now that store cattle are being moved direct from farm to farm under licence in areas free from restrictions.

There is some evidence that dairy farmers are holding on to and rearing calves in the belief that there will be a buoyant market ahead, particularly for beef-cross calves.

“The biggest problem on dairy units with extra calves will be accommodation as we go through summer and into autumn and calving gets closer,” says Mr Sinclair.

“Then time and space devoted to calves becomes more critical, but beef-cross calves could probably go outside if space becomes tight.”

John Bell, head of calf rearing and finishing enterprise Meatgold, is urging producers not to kill calves but to rear them.

“We need to sustain beef production in the future. The first point to make to dairy farmers is not to shoot calves because we need them.”

To allay dairy producers concerns over hassle, time and space required to rear calves, Mr Bell believes MAFF should adopt a scheme to help them move calves from rearing units to finishing units.

He suggests that finishing units could hire collection centres for a morning or whole day, allowing calves to be delivered to a central collection point under licence and a vet could be hired to inspect stock.

The finishing unit could then transport calves straight to its unit in one go, all under licence.

Mr Forster agrees something must be done. While calf numbers are building on rearing units, finishing units are lying idle.

“MAFF must ensure that by exterminating foot-and-mouth it doesnt suffocate the industry at the same time. It has a dual challenge to meet.”


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