WHILE cow numbers in UK dairy herds are on the up, Dutch farmers have had to cull a large percentage of their milking females over the past 18 months as a result of environmental sanctions caused by exceeding EU phosphate limits.

During this time Dutch dairy farmers were given financial incentives to reduce herd sizes to the same level as 2015, or leave the sector all together.

However, with the majority of beef production in the Netherlands derived from the dairy herd, this has led to a reduction in the amount of beef and veal produced in the first quarter of 2018.

Figures from AHDB show that cow beef production in the first quarter of this year was 13% lower (-6600 tonnes) compared to the same period last year with the total beef and veal production down 5% to total 110,000 tonnes.

Increased cullings last year also led to a 7% rise in, total fresh/frozen beef exports on the year from the Netherlands to total 472,000 tonnes which have also remained strong in the first two months of this year at 4% up.

Most of this beef was destined for Germany which saw a 13% rise in Dutch imports in the first two months of 2018 at 22,000 tonnes.

The Netherlands has also been able to export veal to the US for the first time in more than 20 years following a trade agreement mid-2016 between US and Dutch officials.

Hence, some 900tonnes of fresh/frozen veal – worth more than £8m – was exported across The Pond last year, and the Dutch have plans to capitalise further on this new market.

This is nevertheless a small proportion of Dutch market, as the Netherlands is largely an importer and exporter of beef.

The Dutch also import beef to add value to it by processing and de-boning it before re-exporting it.

During 2017, imports of fresh/frozen beef rose 33,000 tonnes (+9%) to total 405,000tonnes, with most of this coming from Belgium (+57%), a pattern which is continuing in the first two months of 2018, with figures rising a massive 44.5% to 9900tonnes.

Following the UK trend, cow prices in the Netherlands also rose throughout the year in 2017 and in September were above the Belgian and EU average prices for O3 cows.

This increase could have led processors to import more beef from Belgium where the price was more stable.