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EU Beef Production

08 March 2010

EU - Beef production in the EU continues to be dominated by a small number of key producers, says Peter Duggan from Bord Bia.

The trend over recent years has been one of declining output in response to lower cow numbers, relatively high feed costs and sluggish producer prices. Since 2005, EU beef production has fallen by more than two per cent with most of this occurring in 2009. Some further tightening in production levels are anticipated for 2010 leaving output at around 7.88 million tonnes. The most marked decline in output over recent years has been evident in Spain, Italy and France.

Spanish beef production has fallen by an estimated 22 per cent since 2005 to 562,000 tonnes. This reflects a lack of profitability in the feed lot sector, particularly in the 2007/2008 period. Spanish feedlot producers have begun to import greater numbers of calves which are finished at an earlier stage and lower carcase weights due to higher feed costs. The change in emphasis in the Spanish beef production system is illustrated in the number of Irish calf exports making their way to Spain. In 2009, 24,500 Irish calves were exported to Spain. For the first seven weeks of 2010, live exports have increased by 35 per cent on 2009 levels to 1,900 head. In 2008, 54 per cent of total Spanish imports consisted of calves less than 80kg in weight.

Beef output in Italy has slipped by almost six per cent to 1.05 million tonnes since 2005. Young bull production has dropped by 10 per cent in the last five years to an estimated 604,000 tonnes in 2009. The principal reason for this decline is linked to lower numbers of store cattle being imported due to higher incidences of blue tongue over recent years. Total live exports of cattle to Italy from France since 2005 have fallen by more than 11 per cent to an estimated 972,000 head in 2009.

Over the last five years, French beef output has fallen by a similar percentage to around 1.47 million tonnes in 2009. This fall is largely attributed to a 20 per cent fall in veal output at 195,000 tonnes, due to a 22 per cent fall in calf supplies at 495,000 head. Bluetongue has affected calving rates with calf numbers under the age of one falling by eight per cent to 1.74 million head despite overall cow numbers showing little change at 7.7 million head. Prime beef production over the period fell by eight per cent to 618,000 tonnes. It is anticipated that net production in 2010 will show a drop of two per cent to 1.44 million tonnes.

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