Norfolk and Suffolk farmers call for action to tackle beef prices

Farmer Stephen Rash

Farmer Stephen Rash

The NFU is calling for measures across the beef industry to address the dramatic fall in prices facing farmers.

Research by NFU East Anglia suggests that an EU-wide decrease in demand coupled with an increase in production has impacted on prices paid to farmers.

Stephen Rash, who runs a beef and arable farm at Wortham, near Diss, and represents Suffolk on the NFU national council, said many beef farmers in the region were finding it hard to be optimistic about the future as prices hit a two-year low.

'If you've got cattle to market you're looking at £200 to £300 an animal less than you were six months ago,' he said. 'It's very difficult to make ends meet.'

Mr Rash said he believed an increase in Irish, Polish and non-EU beef had driven prices down.

He said: 'If the on-shelf price drops, it drops for the farmer but their (the retailer's) percentage in the middle very often remains unchanged.

'When a large supermarket announces its profits have dropped 1pc to a thick end of £1bn, everyone treats it like a crisis, but it's still £1bn. When a farmer sees his gate price drop it's all his profit gone.'

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David Ball, operations director at Norwich Livestock Market, echoed the concerns and warned it raised the spectre of last year's horsemeat scandal.

'The concern is that a lot of these cheap imports come from where the horsemeat came from. By contrast, a lot of the beef that is killed in Norfolk or Suffolk has been born and raised in the region and people can be satisfied about where it has come from,' he said.

NFU Chairman of the Livestock Board Charles Sercombe said: 'There have been calls from the processing industry that we need a vision for the beef industry. The NFU has already outlined its vision for the beef industry and we want to work with organisations across the supply chain to achieve the aims we set out in it.

'The whole industry must come together to work to ensure that consumers can continue to enjoy a sustainable supply of British beef and that all parts of the chain receive a sustainable reward from the market.'

The NFU believes that priority areas for action for the industry must include:

• Retailers actively promoting British beef on shelves through clear labelling and point of sale.

• Processors working with producers to outline longer term pricing arrangements to allow farmers to plan.

• Future changes in specification or the level of deductions for out-of-spec cattle being properly justified and any changes introduced with lead in periods for producers and with better communication.

• Retailers and processors working with the NFU to develop risk management options for beef farmers.