UK beef and veal production expected to fall
Published:  20 August, 2015

According to the latest AHDB Beef & Lamb Market Outlook report, the production of beef and veal is predicted to fall by 2% to 860,000 tonnes (t) in 2015. 

The news comes as a result of prime cattle supplies expected to be tight for the rest of the year. However, the current situation of the British dairy sector could lead to increased cow slaughtering.

Debbie Butcher, senior analyst from AHDB Market Intelligence, explained the position: “The beef suckler herd is now at its lowest level since the late 1980s, at 1.57 million head, having fallen by more than 200,000 head in the past decade. In contrast, the UK’s dairy herd was up 4% in December 2014 at 1.88m head. However, the significant financial pressure being experienced by dairy producers may lead to a reversal in this trend.”

There has been a significant decrease in the cattle on the ground between the ages of 18 and 24 months at the beginning of 2015, compared to the previous year, according to the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS). This has subsequently led to a drop-off in prime cattle availability for this year.

Juxtaposing this, data from BCMS showed that the number of young cattle on the ground in April was up on the year. It is expected that this will lead to slaughtering numbers for 2016 increasing back to around 1.97m head, with productions anticipated to reach 879,000t.

As a result of good availability of high-quality forage, coupled with lower feed prices, carcase weights for prime cattle have generally stayed the same as the higher levels that were obtained during 2014, according to AHDB.

However, the British beef and lamb industry is facing other challenges. “Exports are being influenced significantly by the strength of sterling against the euro, making it harder to compete on the Continent,” continued Butcher.

“UK beef and veal exports in the first five months of 2015 were down on the year earlier, despite only a small fall in production. Unless the pound weakens, this looks likely to be the situation for the rest of 2015.

“Import volumes this year are still forecast to be below the raised levels of 2014, but have been revised upwards given the sterling/euro relationship in the year to date. Despite production in Ireland being expected to be lower in the next six months, it is possible that any reduction in trade to the UK could be moderated, given the competitive position of Irish beef on the UK market.”