NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay has written for Farmers Guardian on the challenges the British beef sector is facing now. Richard gives his insight into market factors, what farmers can do and what the NFU's livestock board is doing. He writes:
The British beef sector is going through a turbulent and challenging time. Arguably the most pressing issue is the farm-gate beef price, which after months of falling prices is now sitting way below the five year average. This has the potential to be amplified by the €100million support package for Irish beef farmers which could distort the UK price even further.
British beef has a reputation around the world for being high quality, full of flavour and incredibly sustainable. The fact that exports are up 11% from last year shows there is a market abroad for our products. Yet, even with fewer beef imports coming into the UK, we are still seeing very low farm-gate prices.
One possibility for this is the release of products that had been stockpiled back in March to prepare for a no-deal Brexit has disrupted supply. Another is the unreliable weather this summer, which has changed consumer eating and cooking habits. This makes it even more important to showcase Red Tractor assured, great British beef, especially as we face even greater uncertainty with Brexit on the horizon.
The NFU has been pushing UK retailers and processors to effectively market the many virtues of British beef and it is great to see this effort coming to fruition, with retailers such as Morrisons, Co-op, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Lidl and Aldi all making public commitments to champion British beef. But we must not forget that farmers have a role to play too.
As farmers our job is to tell the fantastic story of beef production in Britain; from our impressive animal welfare credentials and red meat’s role as part of a balanced diet, to how it enhances our iconic landscape and provides a sustainable meat option as the world battles to find solutions to the climate change challenge.
We need to get out to the public, whether it’s on social media or through our local papers, showcasing the care and hard work that British farmers put in on farm way before it reaches the dinner table. We know that the public value healthy food produced to high animal welfare and environmental standards and here we excel, so let’s use it to tell the story of farm to fork.
We also need to be looking to the future – thinking about what consumers want and responding to market trends. This year, the NFU has been working with Defra to develop a Livestock Information Service to improve traceability and productivity. Not only will it give farmers accurate information about their animals, but it will deliver for the public with food safety, animal health and welfare and environmental enhancement at its core.
Another of the NFU livestock board’s priorities will be working to influence greater market transparency, including clearer pricing structures and a wholesale review of processor deductions.
It is imperative that the supply chain works together to deliver a co-ordinated marketing campaign for what we know is a first class product, in order to help enable a sustainable, profitable British beef sector in the future.