SLU news

Suckle cows on natural pastures can be profitable

Published: 08 May 2013

It is possible to create a sustainable beef production based on suckle cows in Sweden, thus retaining valuable natural pastures. This is shown by Pernilla Salevid in her dissertation "Searching for economically sustainable Swedish suckle cow based beef production systems after decoupling of EU income support", presented at the Department of Animal Environment and Health, in Skara the 3rd May

Today's subsidy system needs to be changed
Since both the number of cows and the number of hectares of natural pastures is now falling in Sweden, it is important and urgent that future agri-environmental payments are designed to facilitate expansion and new establishment of suckle cow production. The main driver for this is obtained if the payments are linked to the animals and not the land, says Pernilla. The impact of today's subsidy system decreases gradually when the money fully or partially is transferred from the animal keeper to the landowner through increased lease.

Two profitable models
In a so-called Delphi study 12 experts described which models can be profitable in the future. The two models that emerged from the material was "organic production with high environmental subsidies and a higher price for the sold meat" and "conventional production with cows overwintering outdoors (with access to a simpler shed for weather protection)". Both systems required agri-environmental payments plus single farm payment for natural pastures.

Organic production model most profitable
The results of the Delphi study revealed a number of models which Pernilla used to calculate profitablity. It turned out that the current subsidy system makes the organic production model most profitable, says Pernilla. If you also have a lot of cows (and hence a large area) and get a higher price for the meat, it can give a really good profitability. (See also news item from 17/1)

Land shortage and lack of clear information
The thesis showed, however, that the most common problem during expansion is to get hold of enough land. The rationalization in size is slow; in 2010, the average number of cows was just 16. But there may be other solutions, such as interactions between farms, in order to maintain the small scale but still have size advantages, Pernilla means. However, to take the long-term decisions needed, there has to be clear signals from the government and the market.