Rise in prime cattle numbers with younger and fitter national herd
Prime cattle supplies are forecast to show a slight upturn in 2013, reflecting a modest increase in calf registrations in late 2011 and early 2012. But numbers will remain below the two million head mark, according to the latest analysis from the English Beef & Lamb Executive.
High cereal prices had an impact on demand for calves in 2012, with BCMS figures indicating registrations of both male and female beef calves were significantly back on year-earlier levels from April onwards.
Eblex senior analyst Debbie Butcher explained: "Producers have continued to rationalise their herds, taking into account feed and forage availability and making the most of the continued high cull values.
"In 2012 as a whole, cow and adult bull slaughterings were 1% back on the post-BSE high levels of 2011. With a younger, fitter herd, cow slaughterings are forecast to be slightly lower in 2013, although will still maintain recent high levels."
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She said total beef and veal production was forecast to be less than 1% up on the year in 2013, as the small increase in prime cattle production will be offset by a decline in cow and adult bull production.
Beef and veal exports in 2013 are forecast to increase modestly on 2012 levels. Last year, as a result of the supply constraints and the stronger sterling, exports were back on the outstanding performance of 2011. Ongoing strong demand for cow beef on the continent is still likely to prevail.
"But due to the commodity nature of the cow-beef trade and the high degree of price sensitivity by EU importers, exports could be affected by exchange-rate fluctuations and the ongoing eurozone crisis," Mrs Butcher added.
"In 2013, imports are forecast to be ahead of 2012 levels, largely as a result of more product coming from within the EU. In particular, the forecast upturn in production in Ireland this year suggests scope for increased trade with the UK. Prospects for South American exporters outside the EU market will remain better and therefore volumes from this region are again forecast to be low."
Reflecting the continued concerns over profitability, the breeding herd is forecast to be found to have been smaller in December 2012 than a year earlier. While the June census showed that dairy-cow numbers levelled on the year, with higher cullings throughout the second half of 2012, this position is likely to have changed by December. Beef cow numbers declined for the first time in three years in June 2012 and are forecast to continue this downwards trajectory.
With higher production and imports offsetting an increase in exports, supplies available on the domestic market will be higher in 2013 than in the previous year.