Beef producers should re-evaluate their approach to dairy beef as it provides enormous opportunities to boost production and meet market demands. So says Robert Drysdale, founder of Straightline Beef, who told a recent Crediton Milling Company meeting, in Devon, that the UK beef market has huge potential for growth.
He has used dairy beef to grow his business from 400 to 4,000 head of cattle in just two years and added that current UK beef production stands at 2.5m head a year – 1.9 million head of which is prime beef.
“This equates to 900,000 tonnes of beef,” he explained. “Although 150,000 tonnes are exported, the UK is still a net importer, bringing in around 400,000 tonnes in 2017/18 – taking total domestic demand to 1.1 million tonnes.
“We produce half a million head fewer beef cattle than what we eat, and global demand is rising. So there’s an opportunity there,” said Mr Drysdale.
If the industry is serious about increasing beef production, it needs to meet consumer and retailer demands. “We need to work backwards from the target product,” he explained. “Producers need to pay attention to welfare and antibiotic resistance, as well as sustainability, carbon footprint, meat quality, marbling, fat consistency and health benefits.
“Beef isn’t sold on taste anywhere in the world,” stressed Mr Drysdale. “But I think it will after Brexit, so fat and marbling will be important.” However, UK producers are poorly paid for a good product, so in future the industry will need to reward consistency in meeting targets such as meat quality and sustainability.
Mr Drysdale, who is also a vet, set up his beef business in 2014 with these market demands in mind. He produces dairy beef across several farms – both tenanted and on contract – and is now slaughtering between 200 and 300 cattle a month.
He uses an integrated cloud system that follows every single animal from birth to slaughter, providing 100% traceability. And he pays for an independent audit every week to ensure farm managers are operating at the highest level.