Beef and lamb production has a bright future as the industry carves out markets at home and abroad, writes agricultural editor MICHAEL POLLITT

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An insatiable demand for quality protein around the world will be a major boost to the livestock, said industry leader and Norfolk farmer John Cross.

Exports of beef and lamb were also enjoying strong growth as industry body English Beef and Lamb (Eblex) has opened up 50 new markets outside the European Union in the past two years.

Mr Cross, who is chairman of Eblex, said: “In 2012 we shall probably export about 18.5pc of our beef production and about 34pc of our sheepmeat.”

“We must do everything we can to help industry produce beef and lamb as efficiently as possible and competitively as possible and on the other side, we then make optimum use of the market place right across the globe to give them the best opportunity to sell as much of the animal as is possible,” he added.

“In fact, there is a market for globally for every single bit and that’s why in the last two years Eblex has opened up 50 new markets outside the EU. In the past because of the export ban and past history, we became very focused as an industry on prime muscle meat and the domestic market.

“We’re making use of the demand for parts for which there’s no demand in this country. It is not just about exporting meat from this country and taking it away from domestic consumers, it is making more use of the entire animal.”

If there is demand in parts of Africa and the Far East for tendons and other products, which cannot be sold at home, then there is an opportunity, he said.

The ruminant meat sector has a brighter future than for years but all sectors had to see the market as a whole - across the globe, domestic, European and non-EU markets.

Mr Cross, who farms at Sedgeford, said that Eblex was also giving producers the tools to become more efficient. “The work on knowledge transfer was promoting best business practice from better nutrition, better genetics, better selection and more competitive and efficient production. The better you do the job, the lower the carbon footprint,” he added.

“The basic future for beef and lamb is fundamentally very strong. It comes from playing to their strengths. They’re great at consuming plant material that human beings can’t eat and turning it into a highly-valuable protein that we need. So our grassland management long-term must be better and our parasite management needs to be better.

“If we can make the best of what we’re good at and then produce a fantastic product which is world class that’s a good set of dynamics to have.

“What I want Eblex to do is to give the industry all the help it needs and wants. We’ve got world class cattle and sheep and we’ve got a very skilled processing sector, which is very entrepreneurial and is up for new markets.

“Sometimes people are worried that we’ve got over-obsessed with the export market. We haven’t but it is essential that it is there in order to for the market to function.

“We can’t have what I call an economically sustainable future for producers and processors unless we have a foothold in every market opportunity that exists. Because the global is short of animal protein, meat, because we’re a temperature grazing country we have ideal opportunity to sell meat from ruminants.”

And domestic consumers are amazingly loyal to both beef and lamb, bearing in mind, that for some months now we’ve had the most expensive beef in Europe.

Mr Cross said consumers were still prepared to buy meat if it was perceived to be good value. And this autumn, the red meat sector would be advertising on television for the first time in four years, partly to promote new cuts, serving methods and recipe ideas. “And domestic consumers are amazingly loyal to both beef and lamb, bearing in mind, that for some months now we’ve had the most expensive beef in Europe.”

“We have to be innovative. We’re having a big push this autumn on new cuts of lamb in particular. We have an entire team working on innovative cuts.

“It is very well received and it is still a very strong consumption habit in this country.

“The days of cheap meat really are over and the demand for protein is just insatiable.”

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