Ladies in Beef call for industry support to boost suckler beef breeding herds
The British suckler-beef breeding herd is at its lowest level since the late 1980s at 1.54 million head having fallen by over 230,000 head in the past ten years and by 140,000 cows the past 4 years. The UK suckler beef herd is the second largest in Europe after France but despite some of the highest EU farm-gate beef prices, this once mighty industry is now the most vulnerable in the livestock sector. Ladies in Beef are calling on farmers (and lady beef farmers especially), livestock markets, abattoirs, processors, retailers, butchers, farm shops, food service and the hospitality sector to support the campaign to raise consumer awareness.
Jilly Greed co-founder of Ladies in Beef said, ‘In the UK we’ve lost over 140,000 beef-breeding cows over the last four years – that’s an awful lot of empty fields. Sadly there is an industry acceptance that suckler beef is in terminal decline due to poor returns and market and supply chain failures. We just cannot let this happen without fighting for a more stable future. We have to up our game and increase consumer awareness of why suckler beef is special due to a natural production system of grass, milk, nurturing beef breeds and glorious countryside.’
Left to right: Suzy Deeley, RABI, Minette Batters, LIB co-founder, David Thomas, South Devon breeder, Jilly Greed, LIB co-founder, Juliet Cleave, LIB member, Cornwall.
Ladies in Beef fully support dairy beef supply chains and the need to maintain volume in the marketplace. However there is very little product differentiation within the processing sector where ‘beef is beef is beef’. Most consumers assume British beef comes from grass based traditional suckler beef herds. Yet only 48% is suckler beef and the dominant 52% is a by-product of the dairy herd. Yet less than half is suckler beef and the majority is now a by-product of the dairy herd.
Minette Batters LIBS co-founder and Deputy President NFU said, ‘Dairy beef is hugely important to maintain volume but we have to be much more bullish about suckler beef and the role our grazing herds play in the production of a high quality product, nurtured by milk and grass. There is much we can learn from the poultry industry in product differentiation and grass based suckler beef resonates with consumers not just in the UK but also across the world. Get the branding right and we could see a resurgence in suckler beef production in the UK and profitable returns.’
Taking a lead from the poultry sector and successful product differentiation within the retail and hospitality sector, there is a fresh opportunity to create a greater awareness of suckler beef, promoting the many health, animal welfare and environmental benefits of traditional, naturally raised suckler beef as well as it importance to the land management of the British countryside.
For without our British suckler beef herds and halting the decline, there will be many more empty fields. The outcome is graphically depicted in the AHDB/EBLEX report Landscapes Without Livestock where the impacts of cherished landscapes without suckler beef cattle are visualised.
In early 2016 leading up to Great British Beef Week (April 23 – May 2), under the umbrella of Save our Sucklers, Ladies in Beef will launch a consumer based campaign, Great British Beef Nurtured by Nature, taking a lead from CAMRA and their campaign for real ale, which has successfully raised the profile of British craft beers and halted the homogenisation of the British brewing industry.
Ladies in Beef hope a differentiated, branded suckler product offer will be piloted with a major retailer or within a regional supply chain such as PGI Westcountry beef. Product criteria is that it must be singled suckled beef and meet Red Tractor assured, Quality Standard Mark standards and Protected Geographic Indicator status if a regional brand.
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The UK suckler beef herd has had two historic post-war peaks, in the early 70’s and the late 90’s. In 1998 the suckler beef-breeding herd was over 1.9m cows. Since then it has declined and in the last decade has lost a further 230k breeding cows, down from 1.77m in 2005 to 1.54m in 2014. Around 140,000 suckler beef-breeding cows have been lost in the last 4 years (from 1.68m in the June 2011 census to 1.54m in Dec 2014 census). Sources: Defra, AHDB. The best beef comes from suckler beef breeds of cattle rather than dairy breeds. Suckler beef accounts for less than half of all supply, with dairy beef accounting for the majority.