The “stay at home and eat” culture that has resulted from the lock downs we have experienced in the last 12 months has increased beef and lamb sales dramatically. This is particularly in the quality and organic end of the market. The reduced numbers of people travelling abroad for holidays has meant that there have been more consumers in the country to eat home produced meat.
The growth of sales of organic products across the board, from candles to textiles and throughout the food sector over a 20-year period is well documented and is a major success story. Slight dips in sales occur during recessions and in theory the pandemic should have caused a major recession but the eat at home trend has clearly overcome a slowdown in sales in the organic market. Some, but not all, commentators are still predicting a major recession but the buoyancy in the red meat sector and a slowdown in availability of cattle and sheep seems strong enough to carry us through what lies ahead.
Traditional organic butchers, delicatessens and quality farm shops have fared very well during the last 12 months and particularly the ones that have been adaptable to provide an on-line ordering and delivery service. This trend may falter slightly when normality returns but there is no doubt that some of these outlets are firmly now on the map and are likely to continue to enjoy long term growth.
For the first time in 20 years (the last time was in 2002 after the disruption caused by foot and mouth) we are experiencing a shortage of cattle and particularly organic cattle. This has been caused by a number of reasons, increased sales as discussed earlier has meant cattle have been moved a lot quicker than was the case 12 months ago. The Brexit effect has also if anything resulted in a tightening of supplies. Two years of successive droughts, in some areas more serious than others has caused poor growth rates in calves due to lack of milk and poor fertility in breeding cows. Lack of forage availability has led to some producers reducing numbers of breeding cows. The economics of organic beef production has in the last 3-4 years been difficult and for this reason as well as for the reasons discussed the number of cows has reduced.
Despite concerns of the likely effect of Brexit organic store lamb and finished lamb producers continue to enjoy good returns with prices for lambs exceeding expectations for the second year in succession.
The future economic trends will depend on a number of factors which are largely out of our control, for example, the weather, the domestic economy of the nation, the length of lockdowns and of course travel restrictions which will affect overseas holidays and of course the price of feed, (which is likely to remain high).
Producers and farmers can though continue to improve the things that are within their control, for example, better cattle and sheep breeding by using the best genetics available and by innovative cross breeding, improved grass land and forage management and overcoming drought situations that keep reoccurring. Planning and budgeting are also of importance.
Going forward my predictions are that the beef and lamb market will remain buoyant for some time yet, perhaps with a slight dip as numbers come onto the market in the autumn period and feed prices will remain high for some time yet. I have no predictions about the weather, although I think droughts are going to be part of the equation going forward.