English beef and sheep farmers optimistic about industry prospects

After a tough couple of years, confidence in the future prospects of the English beef and lamb sector is rising, with 56 per cent of farmers planning to invest in their businesses this year, according to a recent survey by EBLEX.

Of those who plan to spend on improving their farm, 62% said they would be investing in buildings, 50% in machinery and 47% in their flock or herd.*

Meanwhile, 64% of abattoirs, and the same percentage of auctions marts, said they planned to invest over the coming months, significantly up from 54% last year.

The results come from the annual communications survey, which asks a representative cross-section of levy payers a range of questions about EBLEX work, their business practices and the wider industry, to help inform EBLEX strategy.

“The survey is just a modest snapshot but it is encouraging that there does seem to be greater optimism there for the future, particularly, it is fair to say, among the larger operators,” said EBLEX sector director Nick Allen.

“We have had some very tough weather conditions over the last couple of years, among a raft of other challenges, and times remain tough for the sector. Our Stocktake report shows just how tight margins are for many, but businesses can make a good return by operating efficiently, with good husbandry and marketing animals to hit peak industry specification.

“We operate in a global market and prices do go up and down, but the overall trend remains positive if you look at the longer-term picture.

“It is encouraging to find that a majority of producers, processors and auction marts are feeling more optimistic than they were 12 months ago and are looking to invest in the long-term sustainability of their businesses and the wider industry.”

Peter Garbutt, chief livestock adviser at the National Farmers Union (NFU), added: “Although a snapshot, the results of this survey match some of the findings in the NFU farmer confidence survey which shows that, although still low compared to other sectors, short term confidence on beef and sheep farms has improved in recent years.

“Of course, a more optimistic outlook doesn’t mean that there aren’t still significant challenges to face to generate returns from the market, deal with the level of volatility and cope with the increasing red tape that farmers face. The real sign of an increase in long-term confidence will be an increase in livestock numbers in the UK, but these results are encouraging for the sector.”

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