Careful marketing of livestock is likely to be more important than ever after industry experts warned there could be a series of challenges ahead in the coming year.
Attendees at AHDB’s Outlook Conference in London on Tuesday heard it could be a difficult year for the beef industry, with several issues also overhanging sheep producers.
AHDB chiefs said recent beef processor specification changes could be a driving factor in trade and admitted a growing number of lambs were being sent to slaughter outside the Standard Quality Quotation (SQQ) specification, a trend which can happen when prices are depressed.
Adam Quinney, AHDB Beef and Lamb board chairman, said: "I think there is a real temptation with lambs, for obvious reasons, to let them get a bit heavier and try to get value into them.
"We have got to be careful because that is putting a backlog onto the industry."
AHDB Beef and Lamb senior analyst Debbie Butcher delivered a stark outlook for the beef industry looking across 2016, with the prospect of improved supplies compounded with increasing Irish cattle which could find their way onto the UK market.
In recent months several processors have introduced changes to specifications and Ms Butcher said this could weigh on the beef trade.
"It is going to be one of the issues of the year," she said. "I think there are going to be some penalties. The difficulty you have is producers cannot change finishing regimes that quickly and that easily."
Jim McLaren, chairman of Quality Meat Scotland, said: "We need to be pushing back against specification driven by issues such as the number of moves an animal has made."
He suggested this issue should not be a concern in a quality assured supply chain and was something being driven by those further up the supply chain.
AHDB’s Mark Kozlowski, who delivered the outlook for lamb market, said there had been an increase in animals coming through out of specification.
"We are seeing fewer lambs coming through at [correct] SQQ rates. This was lower last year than in previous years. We suggest lambs should go going through at SQQ weights," he said.
Mr Kozlowski forecasted higher production in 2016 driven by lower retentions and increased ewe culling.
Some of AHDB’s production forecasts were challenged by NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe. Mr Sercombe told Farmers Guardian AHDB needed better industry tools to work with on forecasts.
"What I would like is a real industry-wide call for for more information on a more formal basis to help AHDB," he said.
Mr Sercombe said the industry needed processors to report slaughter numbers more accurately in a bid to help the entire chain.