2023 saw strong beef prices in late spring and early summer but the sector subsequently came under significant pressure when those prices began dropping week-on-week. Thankfully we are finally seeing a slight reversal of this trend, however there is still a large variation with prices being paid somewhat dependent on the meat’s final market destination.
The difficulty is of course the sector, like all other sectors, has seen unprecedented increases in input prices with the three Fs in particular - feed fuel and fertiliser - which have squeezed cattle margins. We also cannot ignore that the UK market is a very lucrative market for beef, not least because of our high population, and this makes us an attractive market for exporters. The price parity we saw at the beginning of the year between Irish and UK beef has now slipped. Just as worrying are the trade deals agreed by UK Government with both Australia and New Zealand, which have the potential to see further beef imports on our shelves.
The consumer is, of course, king. What is really encouraging is that many British consumers specifically want Welsh and UK beef and retailers are, in the main, recognising this. This is less true in the service sector which supplies beef for out of home consumption, but this too is slowly changing, thanks to the work of our levy bodies and other influencers. Consistent quality and assurance of products is paramount; our farm assurance schemes and the guarantees they provide on environmental, health and welfare standards are important to consumers. Such standards cannot be guaranteed on imported products.
In summary, think of the beef sector as being at a crossroads. The direction of travel will depend on future government policies, how much support they can provide for beef producing farms to meet new regulations, and how much the Sustainable Farming Scheme will focus on sustainable food production support for farm businesses.
The one thing we must never do is to talk our industry and prices down, as we have top operators and a lot to be proud about in our product.