SOME Cumbrian farmers are facing losses of hundreds of pounds a head for their prime cattle as the industry calls for urgent action to tackle plummeting beef prices.

While local trade is relatively stable, according to auctioneers, prices for heavier animals have “disintegrated” compared to prices being paid this time last year.

“The better heifers are fetching 2.20 to 2.35 a kilo which is reasonably comparable with 12 months ago,” said David Bowman, Livestock Manager at Hopes of Wigton. “However, that is for a select group of 520 to 620 kg heifers.”

“This time last year there was a good market for the heavier animal, but the knock-on effect of imported meat from Europe coming in through Ireland and being rebranded as British, plus the lack of substantial beef promotions, has left the finished beef market in a bit of a mess. The 315 to 330kg deadweight is fetching the lowest prices for five years,” added Mr Bowman.

“A farmer I saw this week said he was £200 a head down, working on the deadweight of 50p a kilo,” he said. “It’s not helped by the lack of substantial beef promotions. People are not eating beef they are eating pork and chicken.”

With finished cattle prices losing value week after week, farming groups have called for urgent and united action to support the industry.

National Beef Association (NBA) chief executive Chris Mallon said the lack of substantial beef promotions retailers had lessened their commitment to UK farmers over the past five years, with almost £4 million less paid to farmers last week compared to 2018. He also warned with the dairy beef sector “faring little better” dairy farmers would be under pressure to move back to euthanising bull calves instead of finishing them.

He questioned how a nation supplying only 70 per cent of consumption could be oversupplied by domestic consumption and highlighted Irish prices were actually higher in some areas, but were still being used to fulfil UK orders.

“The problem obviously lies with an oversupply of imported products swamping the UK market,” he said, with imports acting as a loss leader to control the UK price.

“The future of the industry is being damaged, and the viability of the sector is at risk as numbers drop which will ultimately hit food security for British consumers.

“With every penny removing over £110,000 from UK beef farmers, the reductions are ensuring more suckler cattle disappear from British farms. We feel our concerns are worthy of time and investigation at committee level with EFRA, and as such we have requested a meeting to air our concerns,” concluded Mr Mallon.

Demand has remained remarkably firm for breeding cattle at North West Auctions, despite what farmstock manager Paul Gentry calls “completely unsustainable” beef prices from the Irish abattoirs.

Better heifers with strong calves are making £1,900-£2,000 regularly and most young cows are a firm trade. Continental cross-bred second calvers with good calves at foot are often making £1,600-£1,700, and old cows can still make more than £1,000 with a good calf and sometimes make £1,200-£1,400, said Mr Gentry.

National Farmers Union vice-president Stuart Roberts warned without urgent action from processors, retailers, levy bodies and the Government the situation could rapidly worsen

Defra also had questions to answer, said Mr Roberts, after the EU approved an Irish Government beef crisis support package, with farmers looking at the ‘unfair advantage’ their competitors were receiving.

NFU Cumbrian council delegate, Alistair Mackintosh said farmers wanted to see in-store promotions, clear labelling from retailers and a fair share of the retail value from processors.