What does the future hold for the European suckler cow numbers?

The number of suckler cows present on EU-15 farms, which includes Ireland, is expected to decline in the coming years, according to the European Commission’s latest outlook report.

The report, which presents the medium-term outlook for the major EU agricultural commodity markets up to 2026, suggests that the suckler cow herd in the EU-15 is likely to decline by around 1m head (8.6%) on 2016 levels.

By 2026, it expects the EU-15 suckler cow herd to sit at about 10.5m head.

But despite this decrease, the number of suckler cows present in EU-N13 countries such as Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria are expected to increase from 850,000 to 1.2m over the next 10 years – a jump of 41%.

The outlook report also states that competition for other agricultural activities, such as dairy, is likely to reduce suckler herds in certain EU regions.

Along with having an impact on suckler cow numbers, the dairy herd also looks likely to have a major impact on beef supply throughout Europe.

EU dairy cow numbers had been falling steadily for many years. By contrast, herds in the EU-15 started to grow between 2012 and 2014 because of high milk prices and in anticipation of the ceasing of milk quotas.

EU suckler cow numbers (million head)

eu-suckler-cow-numbers-million-head
Source: European Commission

Beef production set to decline

The Commission outlook also suggests that by the end of 2026, EU beef production is expected to fall to 7.5m tonnes, mainly driven by developments in the cow herd and consumer demand.

Beef production is expected to increase in 2016 by 3.3% and to stay at a high level in 2017, mainly as a result of the continually high number of dairy cows that are slaughtered and adaption of the beef herd to the new CAP.

Even though the suckler cow herd will expand in the EU-N13, this cannot compensate for the decline in the dairy herd, resulting in a significant decrease in beef production in the EU after a surge in 2016-2017, the Commission outlook says.

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