Robert Forster: Beef produced in UK and ROI could become an export-only product.

Discussion in 'Livestock & Forage' started by News, May 8, 2014.

  1. News

    News Staff Member

    The on-going plunge in ex-farm prime cattle prices is sapping beef sector confidence badly.

    However a recent examination by The Grocer magazine into global attitudes toward meat in 2050 points to beef being so expensive in 35 years that most consumers will only be able to afford to eat it as a treat.
    Crystal ball time for 2050 cattle prices

    This might cheer up those who either expect, or hope, to be still in business because it is anticipated that production in the UK could increase on the back of the natural availability of large areas of grass for both pasture and forage.

    It is also possible, even likely, that the domestic beef sector could become export based, delivering the bulk of its premium winning, high quality, grass based, output to high spending, city based, consumers on a trans-global basis.

    In contrast more affordable pork and chicken are expected to become the mainstream meats at world level while lamb, which in global terms is already a minority meat, secures a high priced but low volume niche.

    Domestic beef consumption per person has already declined by about 18 per cent since 1980 to around 15 kilos a year at the same time as UK production has fallen by around 40 per cent

    And at world level consumption per capita has fallen by around 15 per cent to just over nine kilos over the same period.

    However, and this is the crucial point, there are expected to be almost three billion more consumers in 2050 as the world’s population hits nine billion and, because world beef production is forecast to increase only marginally, competition for the meat will be fierce and people able to buy the top cuts are expected to be confined to the professional classes.

    The global constraints against a surge in beef output are competition for land and the weight of capital bound up in a three year production cycle

    It is considered that almost all the world’s natural grassland (the South American pampas and the North American plains for example) is already carrying cattle and relatively little is left, perhaps only in Chinese Inner Mongolia, for breeding cows to spread into.

    However within the UK (and also the Republic of Ireland) there is already an abundance of grass on which to carry cattle and if carcase prices cover production costs beef farming would be an attractive commercial, as well as an environmentally positive, proposition.

    At domestic consumer level it is predicted that by 2050 meat sales will have adopted, a distinct, two-tier, pattern with expensive domestic cuts sold at a premium while an expanding market, for cheaper, frozen, imported pork and chicken from South America and South East Asia develops.

    However very high priced beef is not expected to feature heavily domestically and it is forecast that dominant export sales will be supported by high provenance, especially on-going improvements in welfare, with the UK taking a world lead in this area.

    Processors, who by then will surely (and belatedly) be more export minded, are expected to have discovered how to increase the value of forequarter cuts which are currently trashed into mince – and so raise the overall value of the beef animal.

    While at farm level the emphasis is expected to be even greater focus on production efficiency with a clear distinction between cattle types that convert feed into beef most effectively and those that do not.

    Suckler cows are expected to be appreciated for their fertility as well as their ability to wean calves that are almost as heavy as themselves and it is anticipated that feeding cattle that can reach slaughter weight much earlier than other types will become universally popular too.

    But this encouraging scenario requires processors to build premium priced export markets instead of running, as they are demonstrating so effectively at present, with domestic supermarkets in a price led race to the bottom.

    And supermarkets themselves will, at last, have to realise that it is counter-intuitive to retail potentially high priced beef at such a huge discount that short term production levels are threatened as they undoubtedly are at present.

    (Robert Forster is editor and producer of the new Beef Industry Newsletter which is published around 6pm on Friday evenings and includes, must read, prime cattle price forecasts for the following week. It can be found on the website and access is by subscription only. This can be paid on-site and access is almost immediate. The fee is £40 for three months, £60 for six months and £100 for twelve months.)

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