Welsh cross-industry forum discusses low beef prices

Stakeholders from across the Welsh beef industry came together on Wednesday (September 25) to discuss current low prices that are causing increasing distress for many farmers.

Representatives from the Welsh Government, processors’ bodies, the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), and farmers’ unions met at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.

The group discussed the current market situation and offered their thoughts on how to ensure the long-term profitability of the sector.

It comes as a letter circulated in Wales claims farmers will protest at Holyhead Port in Anglesey in Wales tomorrow (September 27), in an attempt to delay lorries carrying beef originating from Ireland from leaving the port.

However, many of the farmers whose names are listed on the letter have since said they did not agree to endorse any protest.

Making a viable future for beef

The group heard that a combination of factors has depressed producer prices throughout the UK, Europe and America; including increased UK production, low consumer spending and volatility in currencies and trade.

The outlook for the sector is further complicated by political uncertainty around Brexit, which could have a major impact on the balance between imports and exports.

Attendees agreed that a viable long-term future for beef production was vital for the Welsh farming industry, and that the country’s largely low-intensity and grass-fed systems had a positive role to play in answering consumers’ wants as well as contributing to environmental goals.

Gwyn Howells, HCC chief executive, said: “The latest UK retail figures show a small increase in overall beef sales, but a decline in consumption of more expensive cuts. This may reflect general low consumer confidence, and has the effect of tightening margins for everyone in the supply chain.

Everyone present was united in their desire to see a thriving Welsh beef sector. Communication between everyone in the supply chain is important in order to share perspectives and formulate solutions.

“As far as HCC is concerned, we have accelerated promotional campaigns for PGI Welsh Beef during the summer and early autumn, with targeted social media advertising to ensure the best bang for the buck.

“Over the Rugby World Cup, we are continuing to promote beef as a healthy source of protein, and are also using farmers as spokespeople to emphasise Welsh Beef’s strong credentials in terms of sustainability.”

Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts said: “Prices are down by hundreds of pounds per animal despite the pound being significantly weaker than it was last year and factors which would normally have boosted prices.

This means significant losses for farmers in an industry in which it is extremely difficult to make a profit at the best of times.

“With Brexit likely to sever and disrupt supply chains and add to pressures, action needs to be taken by retailers and others to ensure Welsh producer confidence is restored”.

NFU Cymru Livestock Board chairman Wyn Evans added: “The current market price is bringing into question the future sustainability of Welsh beef production.

“It is imperative that we see retailers and the whole supply chain working collaboratively to stimulate demand of great tasting quality PGI Welsh Beef.”