STRUGGLING beef producers across the UK have been hit with a £68 million reduction in cattle value over the last 12-weeks, in comparison to the same period in 2018, the National Beef Association (NBA) has announced.
This equates to the value of 70,000 store cattle within that period. While last year was not a record for the beef industry, prices were certainly stronger than 2019, and competition for cattle was vigorous.
One NBA member, speaking this week of his own experience of the trade, stated that his commercial cattle are back over £160 per head, and his angus cattle down over £230 per head, week-on-week compared to last year.
“There are obviously fortunes to be made in the beef industry, as has been seen by recent articles on the assets of some of Ireland’s wealthiest individuals, but some of that profit needs to go to the beef producer,” says Chris Mallon, Chief Executive of the NBA.
“There are many calls for the industry to be more efficient, but unless we can feed cattle on fresh air, there is no way profits can be made at the moment! How can the industry continue to restock with such drastic losses?”
Mr Mallon questions how the UK beef sector can continue to produce beef at the level of throughput currently seen, if there is not an immediate, sustained, substantial rise in finished cattle prices.
“Potentially by the Autumn we will see producers walk away from the beef industry, and there will be drastic falls in production and a serious impact on store cattle values. Do processors want a supply of UK beef in the future, or are they betting on processing more imported beef and putting that into the mix?” he asks.
The NBA feel the beef supply chain is being destroyed by the ruthless actions of processors and retailers. Retailers need to fully support UK produced beef if they want a future supply and they need to ensure a fair price is paid for it by their processors.
Mr Mallon said: “How embarrassing will it be for those retailers who have a local beef policy, if they allow the supply of produce to disappear and they have to change to imported products? We really are at the point of seeing the industry suffering long term terminal damage.”
The NBA also warns that supermarkets need to stop the ‘co-mingling’ of beef. Mixing beef of different origins confuses customers and makes it more difficult to establish higher prices for UK product.
“Products of mixed origin should not be sold together, it confuses consumers. Co-mingling is a deliberate attempt by retailers to make more money from cheaper imported beef and accept less for more expensive home-produced beef by mixing them up,” he explains.
While at one point over 70 per cent of beef was sold under promotions by retailers, now it is less than 45 per cent. The NBA says that it is crucial that this changes quickly, and retailers show commitment to British beef producers where it matters, in increased sales of British beef.
Mr Mallon concludes: “Farmers deserve to be paid a fair price for their cattle and to see the beef from those animals properly differentiated.”