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More export activity would secure future cattle throughput for processors.
Beef processors can exert more influence on future UK cattle production levels than they appear to think, the National Beef Association said today.
It believes the iron grip British supermarkets have on both ex-farm, and retail, beef prices can be broken if processing companies put more effort into securing much needed export sales – which at a time of tighter global supplies, and more favourable sterling-euro exchange rates, should be much easier than it has been in the recent past.
“Processors are worried about maintaining future throughput levels at a time when pressures on suckler beef production are mounting rapidly and dairy beef output is shrinking in response to more expensive cereals,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.
“If slaughter cattle numbers fall as steeply as predicted it is inevitable that some abattoirs will be forced out of business. However if the root cause of the reduction, which is entirely down to production costs not being covered by market income, is removed then more cattle than expected will be retained and companies that would otherwise go down will be able to continue to operate.”
The key to beef sector viability, both for farmers and for processors, is the development of alternative sales outlets so the industry is no longer dominated by retailers who do not offer its end product at prices which cover the cost of putting it on the shelf.
“However the all-round income stranglehold inflicted by supermarkets can be broken if more high quality UK beef is sold into their EU countries where supplies are already getting short – and other carcase portions are distributed to willing buyers elsewhere,” said Ms Haywood.
“It all comes down to just how keen processors themselves are to break the supermarket deadlock because the answer lies entirely in their hands. At present domestic retail sales account for 90 per cent of production and at present it is cow beef deliveries that dominate export activity.”
“But if exports rose to 25 per cent of UK output, and the increase was almost entirely down to additional prime beef sales, then the multiples would at last have a competitor and would be forced to take a more realistic approach to pricing.”
“Industry analysts say some processors who would be reluctant to expand into exports because it might offend the supermarket which buys the bulk of their throughput while others could be worried that a surge in exports would make cattle too expensive for them to make money out of supermarket contracts.”
“The NBA hopes this is not the case and that simple self-preservation persuades more companies to protect themselves, and their cattle supply lines, by selling more beef onto the export market and reducing the industry’s all round, dependence on domestic sales through supermarkets,” Ms Haywood added.