A roadmap for the future of the beef industry has been welcomed by specialist Westcountry farmers.
The plan, contained in a report called Bullish Prospects, published yesterday by the National Farmers' Union (NFU), sets out the way forward for the sector, a major part of the agricultural scene in the South West.
"The underlying message of this report is that the beef industry is resilient," said producer Martin Howlett, who farms 180 beef cattle at Luckett, near Callington. "We've been the Cinderella of the industry, with the focus on the plight of dairying and the arable situation. It was about time we went to the ball as well. It's very comprehensive – and encouraging that the NFU has put in such effort."
The report sets out five "main areas of focus" for a positive future: a competitive beef-supply chain, which gives a fair return on investment to everyone involved; animal health and welfare, with an emphasis on tackling bovine TB; consumer perception, by becoming increasingly environmentally efficient; insisting on appropriate regulation that does not harm the industry; and simplifying the support systems available through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.
"This report is long overdue, but in the best interests of the whole beef-supply chain," added Mr Howlett, who represents Cornwall on the NFU's national board. "It's important to remember that beef farming is a long-term commitment, with a five-year turn-around on breeding and rearing a calf. Consumers should remember our animal-welfare standards are vastly superior to other countries, and insist of our beef when they shop."
Launching the report, NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said: "This is our vision for a profitable, economically sustainable and internationally competitive industry – but we hope others will share this aspiration and we look forward to working towards this with partners throughout the food chain. If the processing and retail industries are concerned about future beef supply, and the indications are that they are, we must start to work together. We've seen an improvement in prices on the back of tight global supply, but with the increases in costs of production, many farmers are still struggling to capitalise on this."
Jilly Greed, Devon farmer and founder of the Ladies In Beef marketing group, said: "This report is hugely encouraging for the beef sector. It is really important the industry actively connects with consumers, promoting the positive health benefits of British beef and encouraging the public to cook and experiment with different cuts – and get the next generation cooking.
"We must promote our world-class product."