Tight beef supply situation forecast to continue

Volumes of beef on the UK market are expected to be lower through 2015 and into 2016 as a result of reduced domestic production, lower imports and robust exports, according to the latest forecasts from AHDB/EBLEX.

2015 will be a year of reduced prime cattle availability, with forecasts still pointing to a decrease in beef and veal production. The challenges in the dairy sector could lead to an increase in the number of cows coming forward this year, which may impact production levels, however it is too early to ascertain a realistic picture of these developments.

British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) figures indicate that registered calf births in 2013 showed a decrease of 81,000 head on the previous year, clearly signalling that cattle availability will be tighter than in 2014. However, with improved productivity last year on the back of better conditions and what was then a better outlook for the dairy sector, calf registrations will have increased in 2014.

The total number of prime cattle slaughtered at UK abattoirs in 2014 increased almost 2% on the year, largely driven by a higher number of steers coming forward. Steers made up over half of the prime cattle slaughter mix for the first time since 1997, while young bulls accounted for their lowest proportion of the kill since 1990, as many producers chose to castrate male calves and finish them as steers.

Looking ahead, BCMS data in October 2014 recorded significantly fewer cattle on the ground between 6 and 24 months of age, which inevitably means a drop off in prime cattle availability this year, with slaughterings forecast to be back slightly on the year. As a result of the modest increase in calf registrations last year, slaughterings in 2016 are forecast to edge back up a fraction.

Carcase weights for steers and heifers in 2014 were up on the year. Combined with increased throughputs this meant that production from prime cattle increased 4%, with total domestic production increasing by the same amount.

It is possible that carcase weights this year will stay at these higher levels, which could mitigate the lower throughputs to some extent. As such, production is forecast to be back in line with slaughter numbers, falling around 2% on the year, with some stability following in 2016.

Import volumes this year are forecast to be below the raised levels of 2014. Due to the drop in production, Irish beef exports this year are forecast to fall, which should result in some downturn in shipments to the UK.

Export volumes in 2014 were ahead of year earlier levels, having performed better as the year progressed. Trade in 2015 is forecast to be virtually unchanged, despite lower production, supported by firm demand for manufacturing beef. However, the weak euro could have an impact on this.

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