NBA optimistic as calf scheme comes to an end
REMOVAL of the calf processing aid scheme, while coming too soon, will encourage the beef industry to expand and avoid long-term damage.
That optimistic view, which contrasts sharply with the general mood, comes from the National Beef Association. It reckons the schemes demise will boost abattoir and auction throughput, producing beef which will be marketed at home and abroad.
NBA chief executive, Robert Forster, admits there is likely to be some short-term confusion as the calf meat sector moves out of mothballs and dairy calf rearers restart operations after a two-year suspension.
"From December 1 the industry will have to adjust overnight from finishing about 150,000 calves a year fewer than it did before BSE, to perhaps 250,000 head a year more, assuming that commercial bobby calf and pet food manufacturers are quickly able to accommodate a similar number."
But longer term, it gives the beef sector the chance to challenge imports, he believes.
"The over 30-month scheme and CPAS have been accounting for about 30-35% of pre-BSE crisis production. As a result, the UK now imports over 220,000t of beef a year, about 27% of national consumption, compared with nothing three years ago.
"Successful industries need scale and size, presence and weight. We have got to be able to bat off these imports, and to do that, we need cattle."
The extra production should not impinge on suckled calf markets, he adds. Most dairy beef will not hit the market until 2000, by which time beef should be exportable, says Mr Forster.
Peter Scott, secretary of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers, which represents abattoirs, agrees. "A fair proportion of our imports is manufacturing beef. Producing fewer animals only sucks in more imports."
Kevin Pearce, NFU beef and sheep adviser, is not convinced. "Farmers are extremely angry. They are very concerned about the number of extra cattle coming on to the market before the export ban is lifted."
"We have got to deal with a lot of calves that were traditionally exported. Before the beef ban, we exported 450,000 head a year. We wont recapture that market even if the ban is lifted, since the date-based scheme only includes animals over six months of age."
"We do not know under what sort of systems these cattle will be finished, so we do not know when they will hit the market." And a strong £ would limit exports while continuing to suck in imports, he says. "We could have a bigger problem than we have today."
The Meat and Livestock Commission forecasts that dairy calves will be worth £10-£20 a head, compared with £78 under the scheme. Nigel Crowe, managing director of Tregaron-based Cwmnant Calves, agrees.
"With exports banned, most surplus dairy bull calves will be worth the value of their skins. More black-and-white male calves will be reared to claim beef special premium and extra finished cattle will pull down market prices."
A rise in the number of qualifying cattle could breach beef special premium ceilings, which could trigger scalebacks, he adds. *