23-04-2014 08:15 AM | Cattle, Meat Processing, News, Supermarkets

Beef industry 'needs long term investment', says NFU



Beef industry 'needs long term investment', says NFU
The National Farmers' Union is calling on more people to eat British beef as production falls around four percent in recent times. The union is calling on consumers, retailers and the government to reverse the trend as the Great British Beef Week begins.

In November last year, 83% on average of beef stocked in retailers' stores was British with lamb standing at 88%. Both of these figures were up from the previous month.

But the UK is the fourth largest producer of beef in Europe with production beginning to fall. The campaign is calling for greater investment and longer term relationships in the beef supply chain.

Genetic and feed efficiency will be central to ensuring beef farmers can meet the growing domestic and global demand for British beef, more than 300 farmers were told at a producer group meeting earlier this year.

No matter where in the UK beef is produced it must be done as efficiently as possible, said grassland consultant Charlie Morgan of Grassmaster. "Efficient beef production means getting the most possible from the available resources, principally grazed grass."

Morgan said half the potential output in a beef system comes from genetics, the key is having the right genetics and in future that is likely to mean having the right genetics to convert forage to beef rather than feeding cattle on cereals.

The NFU also called on the 'stranglehold of red tape' to be removed from the sector and greater support for rural development programmes.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: “Retailers are worrying about where they will get their food from, not in 20 years’ time, but in the next 10 years and we are finally starting to make them think they need to plan for both the long and short term”.

The government was called on to seriously address TB in all species. The impacts of bovine TB cattle controls on farm businesses in Pembrokeshire was at the forefront of discussions when farmers met with Paul Davies, Assembly Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, at a recent on-farm discussion.

Valuing cattle on the basis of their individual merits is the only way to achieve fairness for both cattle keepers and the taxpayer, according to the NFU in its response to the consultation on the introduction of a table valuation system for TB compensation.

Stephen James, NFU Cymru President said, “NFU Cymru is fundamentally opposed to a tabular valuation system. Our members have very much taken issue with the inference in the consultation that the current TB compensation arrangements may not provide sufficient incentive for farmers to keep disease out of their herd and that the current arrangements could act as a disincentive for farmers to engage effectively in TB prevention measures.

“Tabular valuation systems can never be comprehensive enough to accommodate the huge variations in livestock values. The value of animals varies enormously according to factors such as breed, sex, age, bloodline and pedigree status, genetic merit, stage of pregnancy, seasonality and organic status.

“The key issue with regards to TB compensation is to ensure that the disease is controlled quickly and effectively so that the disease has the smallest possible impact on the national herd. The fewer animals that need to be slaughtered as a result of bTB, the lower the compensation bill and the lower the cost for both Government and industry.”

Mr James continued, “NFU Cymru would argue that if the Welsh Government was confident that they had a robust and effective TB eradication programme in place then they should have the confidence that the programme would deliver a year on year decline in levels of herd infection, reduced reactors being taken and therefore a reduction in overall compensation payment levels to Welsh farmers.

“Compensation paid out in 2013 was significantly down on 2012 levels as a result of a reduction in the number of reactors compulsory slaughtered. If Welsh Government believed that this reduction was a result of its eradication programme then this figure should continue to decline. In effect, this proposal could be seen as the Government lacking faith and confidence in its own TB eradication programme.”

In conclusion, Stephen James said, “Cattle keepers are doing their utmost to keep TB out of their herds. They adhere to some of the most stringent cattle movement and testing controls in the world and have voluntarily taken up and worked with Government and private vets on biosecurity initiatives. Unfortunately the failure of Welsh Government to implement a policy that will actively remove the disease from the wildlife population means bovine TB continues to cause untold heartache and financial strain to farmers and their families.”

Host farmer William Prichard said how bovine TB has impacted on his family’s dairy farming business, which comprises 1,200 milking cows and 800 young stock run on four separate units and employing 13 full time staff in north Pembrokeshire.

The farm went under TB movement restrictions in October 2011 and since then they have been required to test all their cattle every 60 days. During that time over 11,250 individual cattle tests have been carried out which have only disclosed one TB reactor with only a further 13 animals removed from the farm as inconclusive results to the test.

The Prichard family estimate that the cost to their business associated with having to keep more cattle on farm due to movement restrictions, combined with the additional labour costs and lack of suitable marketing outlets for selling livestock from TB restricted farm, comes to a staggering £216,000 per annum. William Prichard said, “Since October 2011 only 0.1% of the TB tests carried out on the farm have led to the removal of cattle and yet we’re counting the severe financial cost of the disease on our business. We do not have a major TB problem on our farm but TB is a major problem for our business.”

Charles Sercombe, NFU livestock board chairman, said: “Around half of our beef comes from the suckler herd - calves are reared with their mothers for seven to ten months. These herds are a vital part of our livestock production system with long term cycles of around three years. But cow numbers have been gradually falling. This week we are highlighting the need for government and the food industry to ensure we have more long term investment and the type of regulations and market signals that are targeted to reverse the current decline.

“Consumers tell us they want to eat more British produce and that provenance is important to them. One of the most interesting developments we’ve seen is the increased demand for native breeds of cattle such as Shorthorn, Angus and Hereford beef. Farmers have responded to this demand and adapted their systems accordingly. Many are embracing new technology, from ultrasound and genomics in breeding programmes through to computer modelling and precision farming. But having the long term confidence to invest is paramount to the future success of our beef sector and this comes from getting a framework where British beef farmers can run profitable businesses.

“Red Tractor assured British beef is a fantastic product. It is incredibly versatile, from large roasting joints for Sunday lunch to burgers on a barbeque. It also provides a wealth of public goods, through environmental benefits, maintaining the British countryside and forming part of the farming backbone of rural communities. Great British Beef Week is the perfect opportunity for livestock farmers to showcase their product to the public who can show their support for the industry by backing British farming.”

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