Challenges facing the beef sector

Beef breed societies must work more closely together, sharing facilities and resources where possible, and be creative in their marketing approach to come out ahead of the biggest challenges facing farming today… Coronavirus and Brexit.

Chief Executive of the British Charolais Cattle Society, Peter Phythian, says the current beef price, around £3.30/kg, is not offering a sustainable income in the long run, and fears it will fall further, perhaps by another 10p/kg, before it gets better.

“Farmers need £3.50/kg but of course everything is linked to supply and demand.  We’re remaining positive that we’ll see prices start to creep up moving forwards, but it’s never been more important for dairy and beef producers to choose a terminal sire that can produce stock ready to be finished at 12  months as these cattle are better for both the environment and cash flow.”

The Society and Harrison and Hetherington at Carlisle have come up with an innovative answer to the lack of pedigree sales, and plans are well underway to load videos of bulls for sale on to Carlisle’s new live auction market system which will work in the same way as e-bay, with three days allowed to bid for the animals.  If any farmer has been out-bid, they’ll receive an email giving them an opportunity to bid for the animal again.

They’re also in early discussions with Carlisle to hold the autumn round of sales ‘virtually’ if the Covid-19 restrictions haven’t been lifted.

“Both the Society and Carlisle will use Facebook to promote the bulls and offer every assistance to our members to get this up and running,” he says.  “We have to think out of the box, as spring is a key time in the breeding calendar when many customers are looking to buy stock bulls.  It’s vital that we find a way to showcase these bulls, and this idea has been well received by our team.”

Looking ahead, he said he could see an opportunity for closer cooperation between societies.  The Charolais building at Stoneleigh Park is already the base of two others, the British Simmental and Dairy Shorthorns, and shared resources within the building are leading to significant cost savings for all.

“We’re all doing the same job, and perhaps we should stop seeing one another as competitors,” he says.  “Our cattle all have different roles to play, and the time for us to support one another has definitely come.

“In the meantime, it’s vital that we work together to keep the live auction marts open,” he adds.  “They offer a transparent price on animals and are a vital part of the food chain.  We’re working very hard across the board to keep these open for finished cattle and stores, while accepting they’ll have to work under tighter legislation.

“The closure of major retail outlets such as McDonalds and Burger King will have a significant effect on the beef price, with McDonalds alone accounting for 50,000 tonnes of forequarter beef each year.  It’s likely this will now be minced, and with more on the market, this could see prices fall.

“But really it’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” says Peter “as if we see workers in abattoirs self-isolate with Covid-19, we could see abattoir closures and prices will go up.  It’s hard to predict at the moment.”

One thing he remains certain about is the value of the Charolais breed in today’s marketplace.  “Farmers are going to look even more closely at costs ahead,” he says.  “This spring we had more people than ever before buying Charolais bulls because of the breed’s speed of finishing and improved returns.  Our trade was better than any other breeds’ in February, and when dairy farmers digest that they’ll also get increased calf prices they’ll also be selecting Charolais for their easy calving ability.  With fertility so key in dairy herds, our short gestation bulls have a big role to play too.”



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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.