Editor’s view: Could UK herd move east in future decades?

The ceaseless rhetoric from some quarters about cutting meat consumption may be having little impact on consumers, but will the coming economic headwinds do the zealots a favour?

Undoubtedly those feeling the pain of soaring energy bills and other pressures are going to scrutinise every penny, and a steak dinner in a nice restaurant will be high on the list of costs that could be abandoned.

But predicting total consumption, made up of the interplay between retail, takeaway and restaurant purchases, is a tricky business.

About the author

Andrew Meredith
Farmers Weekly editor
Andrew has been Farmers Weekly editor since January 2021 after doing stints on the business and arable desks. Before joining the team, he worked on his family’s upland beef and sheep farm in mid Wales and studied agriculture at Aberystwyth University. In his free time he can normally be found continuing his research into which shop sells London’s finest Scotch egg.
Read more articles by Andrew Meredith

Will that consumer, let’s call her Samantha, be cast down by having to spend Friday night at home instead of a bistro and put a more affordable supermarket steak in her shopping basket instead?

Samantha is the fictional embodiment of a real-world economic phenomenon known as the lipstick effect.

Affordable luxuries

Economists have noticed that in times of economic hardship, people still like to treat themselves with affordable luxuries, meaning some brands or product lines see a surge in popularity during recessions.

The thing is though, Samantha is a farmer. She’s got an upland beef and sheep unit in one of the wetter parts of the country, which sees her bring in her herd of Limousin-cross cows for at least six months of the year.

She knows they cost a lot to keep in infrastructure, time, machinery and fuel, but she likes that they keep the sward tidier than sheep alone and, frankly, they’re nice to look at.

But there’s an upgrade needed to the slurry lagoon, the second tractor is on its last legs, and she could probably do with a new bull next year as well.

Steak might be her affordable luxury, but with subsidy going, she’s wondering if the herd is or not.

Could she make big changes to cut costs like the admirable Sordy family in this week’s Livestock section, or should she get rid of them altogether and change tack?

Fresh look

There are many people having a fresh look at what truly pays and what doesn’t now, but even if this scenario is a credible one, it does not necessarily mean the national herd will drastically shrink.

Instead, I have a hunch that it may be tugged eastwards over the next few decades as more arable farmers are incentivised to return to mixed farming.

Of course, these tractor drivers don’t know one end of a cow from the other, but Samantha’s daughter Sam (an excellent stockperson) has just met a bloke at Harper Adams who’s starry-eyed about regenerative agriculture and has invited her back to the homestead to give him some extra tuition on short-term leys.

Who knows where it’ll all end up.

See more