Farmers stepped up their campaign against low beef prices by picketing supermarket chain Morrisons at the Great Yorkshire Show.
Members of the National Farmers Union, around 20 in number, marched to the retailer’s tent on the showground carrying placards calling for improved prices for farmers, before holding talks with Environment Minister Owen Paterson who arrived in the afternoon.
The supply of British beef is outstripping demand from shoppers which the NFU says means that farmers are losing up to £200 on every animal they produce. And retailers are compounding the situation, the union says, by failing to clearly promote British beef over cheaper imports.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “People who have bought cattle this time last year are seeing a 20 per cent loss. A lot of these people projected selling at £4 per kg deadweight but that has dropped to £3.20 per kg. When people are losing money, confidence disappears.”
NFU member Rosey Dunn, who runs a beef herd at her farm near York, said farmers felt let down: “Looking back to horsegate last year, we were very heartened by retailers coming to us and saying they were keen to forge long- term relationships with us and we are disappointed that they seem to have moved away from that.”
Tom Hind, agriculture director for Tesco, said the chain was at the mercy of changing consumer habits, with many demanding food that is not just clearly traceable but was good value, and some felt priced out of beef.
Mr Hind said: “It’s fundamentally important we build stronger and lasting relationships with farmers. We’ve made progress and we’re keen to do it further. We measure our success by the number of farmers in our sustainable beef group which we formed last year and now have more than 120 farmers involved who supply beef to us on two-year contracts.”
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post after meeting NFU officials, Secretary of State Mr Paterson dismissed talk of a crisis but said he did not have a “glib, patsy answer” to turning the situation around. In the long-term however he was confident of great demand for British beef from abroad, with the Government having been given signals that the US market was opening up.
As for the short-term, he said: “I would like to see British promoted in our shops and I would like to see British consumers realise what a great product we have and take advantage of it.”
The NFU’s Mr Raymond warned that confidence must return to the beef sector by end-of-summer stores sales or some farmers will be forced to consider their futures in the industry.