By Debbie James
Plans to impose a £100 carbon tax on prime beef cattle finished later than 27 months old could result in the phasing out of important traditional breeds that play an important role in managing Wales’ hills and uplands.
The industry body, the National Beef Association (NBA), is suggesting that a levy would deter producers from retaining older, slower-growing and less efficient cattle, cutting the sector’s carbon footprint and streamlining production.
It wants a change in rules that define animals as prime cattle between 12 and 30 months.
But the proposal could impact Welsh beef producers disproportionately and, instead of achieving the desired outcome of protecting the environment, it could be harmful.
In Wales, many beef systems use regenerative farming practices and are less intensive.
Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts, who runs a beef and sheep farm with his daughter Beca in Ysbyty Ifan, north Wales, says the union has received many calls from angry members since the NBA launched its proposals.
“Many highlighted the particular impact the proposal would have for traditional breeds and certain farming systems which are of particular importance to the environment,’’ he says.
He suggests the proposal is a blunt instrument for solving a problem that is not “black and white’’.
“While the carbon benefits of finishing animals more quickly are well known for certain farming systems, for other more traditional systems where animals are finished over a longer period such a black and white proposal did not make sense from an environmental perspective, including in relation to carbon,’’ says Mr Roberts.
The concerns will be raised at a joint meeting of the FUW’s livestock, wool and marts and hill farming and marginal land committees later this month.
Around 10.6 per cent of the 1.5 million prime beef cattle slaughtered each year in the UK are aged between 28 and 30 months.
Some farmers support the NBA plan, suggesting it would boost productivity while helping agriculture meet net-zero targets.
Carbon emissions increase steadily as animals age and convert feed less efficiently.
NBA chief executive Neil Shand says removing older animals would free up land and feed, which could then be used to increase the national beef breeding herd.
A larger, lower-cost herd, with a lower carbon footprint, would be better able to compete with beef imports, he says.
Cull cows and herds on conservation ground or using rare breeds would be excluded from the plan.