The latest farm outlook figures from the European Commission indicate that meat consumption levels will fall by approximately 1kg per person per annum over the next decade.

The reduction will specifically encompass beef and pork. Chicken, in contrast, is likely to buck this trend with consumption actually rising.

The detailed projections have been published today (Thursday, December 16) to tie in with the EU Agricultural Outlook conference in Brussels. The figures will make particularly bad reading for Ireland’s beef industry. They cover the period up to 2030.

Significantly, the predictions take no account of Brexit or the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) changes coming down the track over the coming years. EU gross domestic product (GDP) growth should get back to pre-Covid levels by 2023 while oil prices are expected to hit US$83 per barrel by 2030. This projection is based on a US$1.16/euro exchange rate.

A European Commission spokesperson stressed that the latest projections only factor in those trading arrangements, which the EU has formally entered into with other countries around the world.

Market demand

According to the commission, agricultural markets will be driven by a number of factors over the coming years. These include: consumer concerns with regard to health; food traceability and general nutrition; and the ongoing sustainability of farming practices in tandem with the challenges associated with climate change.

Where dairy is concerned, the commission is predicting continuing growth in milk production with liquid output across the EU27 to total 162 million tonnes by 2020. This represents a 9.4% increase on current output levels. This growth will be achieved on the back of higher yields per cow.

The farm outlook projections predict that livestock numbers will fall, with Europe’s pig and cattle herds taking the brunt of these decreases. The next decade should also see a 30% reduction in live animal exports from the EU.

Tillage outlook

Where tillage is concerned, the commission is projecting a reduction in the available land area across the EU of 500,000ha. Increased urbanisation is expected to account for this.

The implementation of next-generation technologies will help boost arable yields with protein crops expected to rise in prominence within crop rotations up to 2030 and beyond.

Farm incomes are set to rise in line with increasing production costs. The farm outlook predictions point to crop values strengthening by 1.9% per year over the next decade. The equivalent figure for animal production is 0.9%. Costs are set to increase at a similar pace across both sectors.

Significantly, the commission is not predicting any major step change in the environmental indicators recorded by European agriculture up to 2030. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are projected to remain unchanged as reductions in livestock numbers will be balanced out by increases in nitrous oxide production from the tillage sector.

The report concludes that if the right farming practices and technologies are put in place, animal and crop emissions can be further mitigated through further carbon sequestration and avoiding carbon losses.

The latter is what the Commission is promoting in its CAP reform and Green Deal initiatives.