Predictions for Meat Farming in 2018
The availability of jobs in any sector, including farming and agriculture, are contingent upon its health and relative growth across the board. The better any given industry is doing, the more chance of outside investment, and the greater likelihood of positions being available.
So, as we head into 2018, just how healthy is the meat farming industry in the UK, and what impact will that have on jobs within the UK farm sector?
With many consumers moving towards eating leaner meat, there has been a significant increase in the demand for broilers, with the volume of poultry sold for consumption rising by over 12%. This sector now accounts for almost 17 thousand tonnes per month in the UK.
Currently, the fourth-largest producer of poultry meat in the European Union, the UK poultry sector is the area of farming that could bounce back and, indeed, scale up should the country face less competitive trade agreements following Brexit. It seems likely that poultry farming jobs, and jobs in production, avian health and other associated areas, are not only safe for the foreseeable future but are likely to blossom. There seems to be significant opportunities for growth within a sector that offers regular income.
The other side of bird-farming – egg production – is looking less rosy, the government’s aim to have the entire egg industry free range in 2025 would require an industry investment of over £500 million, which does seem very likely.
It has also been the victim of food scares, as the imported Dutch egg debacle of earlier in the year reminds us. As we slowly move towards a post-Brexit Britain, an important aspect of egg production will lie in marketing and public relations, educating and informing the consumers of the high quality of domestically produced eggs.
The significant rise in lamb export prices throughout 2017 can be attributed to two things: the weak performance of the pound against both the dollar and the Euro raising the value of lamb by 13%, and low levels of lamb production in New Zealand resulting in a drop of over 20% in UK imports, requiring our own lamb industry to prop up the domestic demand for lamb.
With a similar number of lambs in 2018 as the sector enjoyed in 2017, it seems that the lamb industry will be dealing with larger breeding flocks. This will require more hands-on staff in the short-term, to handle the processing of these excess sheep, until the industry gravitates towards a comfortable number of sheep.
In the long-term, as with much of the meat farming industry, the outlook is heavily centred on smaller numbers of animals, but with a more highly-optimised production process, with lower new costs involved in the running.
Experts foresee a massive uptake in outdoor sheep-farming, making the best use of foraged food for the animals, to save on the cost of bought animal feed. This will lead to many jobs in the industry, from infrastructure work (new walls, gates, pathways and the like), through to land management, logistics and other associated trades.
2017 has seen some optimism amongst Britain’s beef farmers. Following a gradual period of decline, the numbers of breeding cows seem to have stabilised, with current estimates holding them at around 1.6 million.
Current forecasts predict slaughtering figures of over 2 million head of cattle, the highest number in
seven years, so there could be an attendant rise in the number of abattoir jobs, and certainly slaughterhouse inspection roles. That said, despite larger numbers, the volume of meat produced for the domestic market, on a pound-for-pound basis, is only going to be slightly higher over the next 12 months. This is because retailers have shown a preference for lighter carcasses, meaning that higher slaughter rates are necessary to match existing sales.
With the sustainability of beef farming walking a rather narrow margin, particularly with the shadow of a post-Brexit world in which the EU subsidies upon which much of the sector relies, the key to strong farming operations in this area is optimisation and monitoring. Therefore, whilst the day-to-day running of the farms might see no increase in job availability, there will be many specialised roles opening up to the right candidates. Confirming that cattle are finished to the right specification prior to slaughter, for instance, can save a farm thousands in wasted produce, as can thorough monitoring and analysis of growth rates and feed conversion, so agricultural statisticians may well be in demand.
The pig sector has seen an improvement in deadweight prices over the last 12 months, with levels in July being the highest in three years. Whilst those prices have tapered off somewhat over the latter half of the year, there is no immediate concern about a sudden and dramatic drop in price, at least in the short-term, while the pound remains weak in Europe.
Whether these prices will be sustainable in the mid and long-term remains uncertain, as so much of it is tied in with Brexit and, specifically, the EU tariff on imported pig meat products of up to €150 for 100kg of deadweight. At the moment, this makes imported pork products uncompetitive, which benefits the UK's pig sector, but once we leave the EU, such tariffs might apply to us as well.
With uncertainty high, within the industry, producers are turning to their production costs in search of ways to reinvest the increased returns they have benefited from in 2017, and it is here that job availability in the pig sector will spike.
As with the poultry sector, pig farming will be looking their future marketing strategies, and there will be many opportunities for employment here, as they focus on the high standards of welfare enjoying by British stock. Likewise, risk management positions will likely emerge to cover potentially risky transactions like the forward-buying of animal feed.
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