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Beef production in Italy

General elements

Beef represents 50% of the meat tonnage consumed in the country (GEB-IDELE 2011). As the 4th largest beef producer in Europe, Italy produced 809,600 T CWE in 2016 (from 2.85 million heads), accounting for 10.4% of the EU production. In 2012, 40% of its slaughtered animals came from import of lean cattle, fattened in Italy (GEB-IDELE 2013a).

IT figure 10

Italy has experienced a structural decreased of beef consumption: in the last 10 years it has reduced by 25%, from 25 kg cwe per inhabitant in 2006 to 19 kg cwe in 2016.

Between 1980 and the economic crisis of 2010, there was a decreased by 25% of animals slaughtered partially compensated by the increase in carcass weight (increase share of French young bulls in the supplies, genetic progress) limiting the decreased in tonnage by 6%. However, since 2010, production has decreased by 25% both in tonnage and slaughter (figure 10). Slaughtering has slightly increased again between 2014 and 2016 by 14%. Consumers are preferring cheaper meat due to a lower purchasing power and changing lifestyles resulting in increased volume of minced meat consumed (GEB-IDELE 2011).

IT figure 11

Italian consumers have a preference for tender and light colored meat corresponding to a production of young cattle (male and female) slaughtered between 16 and 22 month old, called vitelloni, and accounting for 66% of the Italian production in 2016. Culled cows accounts for 21% of the beef produced and veal for 13% (figure 11). Italian reproductive herd is for 87% a dairy herd, that’s why cows slaughtered in Italy are mainly culled dairy cows. Heifers for dairy cattle are intended to restock caw herd. Half of the male calves from dairy herds produced veal, the remaining can be crossed breed and fattened to produce young bulls (GEB-IDELE 2011). However, according to the ISMEA in 2011, 54% of young bulls slaughtered in Italy were from specialized suckling breeds, including imported animals.

Foreign exchanges in Italy

Exchanges in live animals

To satisfy its need of young animal for its market, Italy import live cattle (“broutards”) to be fattened mainly in the Pô valley in northern Italy. With almost 992 000 heads imported in 2016, Italy is the largest cattle importer in EU. France is Italy’s main supplier of cattle for fattening and for slaughter with respectively 77.6% and 73.3% of the market share in 2016 (Figure 12). Austria, the second supplier only accounts for 6% of Italian live imports (FranceAgriMer 2017).

The decline in Italian consumption has been reflected in a decreased of live imports for fattening farms reaching 921 000 heads imported in 2015 (vs. 1.28 million heads in 2010).

IT figure 12

Italian live exports, with a little less than 37 000 heads in 2016, are low compared to imports. Until 2015, exports where towards Spain and the Netherlands and shifted to Spain, Poland and Turkey afterwards (FranceAgriMer 2017).

Beef exchanges

With declining imports of live cattle, Italian production has decreased more quickly the decreased of consumption creating a deficit in the beef market. It was compensated by an increasing volume of fresh and frozen meat importation. With 430.4 thousand T cwe imported in 2016 (mainly from France – 19%, Poland – 18%, Netherland – 14%), Italy is the first EU importer (figure 13).

IT figure 13
IT figure 14

Between 1990 and 2010, imports have increased by 31% and exports have been multiplied by 2.1 (GEB-IDELE2011). Between 2010 and 2013, the decreased in national consumption and meat availability in EU have led to a loss of 13% of beef meat importation in Italy (GEB-IDELE 2013a). (Figure 14)

The competition on Italian imported beef market have increased. France was the first supplier of Italy in 2016 but has been losing market share in favor of Poland. This shift in supplier translate a change in the type of meat imported: since 2010, the share of frozen meat have increased at the expense of fresh meat. Moreover, imported meat accounted for 40% of the consumption in 2016 versus only 35% in 2011, and 26% in 1995 (GEB-IDELE 2013a).

IT figure 15

Italy has exported 169.5 thousand T cwe in 2016, mainly from culled cows toward France for hindquarters and the EU for forequarters, mostly already minced (figure 14 & 15).

Typology of Italian herd

With 6.3 million heads, Italy currently has the 5th largest cattle herd in the EU, with the 4th dairy herd and the 7th suckling herd. The cattle herd has remained relatively stable since 2000, fluctuating between 6 and 7 million heads but has declined by 29% compared to the 1980s. It is due to a significant drop by 43% of the suckling herd between the 1990s and today (figure 16) and a decline by 30% of the dairy herd between 1980 et 1995. The dairy herd has remained stable since. In 2016, the Italian cattle herd is composed mainly by dairy cows (33%) and young animals (under 2yo) (figure 17)

IT figure 16
IT figure 17

The Italian cattle herd is mainly a specialized dairy herd. It is mainly localized in the north of Italy, in Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna (figure 18). In 2016, There was 50 000 dairy farms for 2.06 thousand dairy cows. The suckling herd accounted for almost 605,000 suckling cows in 2016 (figure 19). Piedmont, Sardegna and Sicilia are the 3 main territories for the suckling herd with respectively 29%, 14% and 9% of the total Italian suckling cows. The remaining suckling cows are located along the Appenini mountain range which cross Italy from north to south (GEB-IDELE 2011).

Farm size are variable from one region to another. In the 3 main dairy region, almost half of the dairy farms held from 100 to 500 cows. On the contrary, 72% of the 84,000 specialized suckling farms only held less the 19 cows in 2015 and 15% held from 20 to 49 cows (De Roest & Montanari 2015).

IT figure 18
IT figure 19

The 4 regions constituting the Pô valley held half of the 55,000 farms with young males from 1 to 2 yo but account for 75% of this population (figure 20), with 9% of the farms (i.e. 5000 farms with more the 100 LU) in 2011 detaining 60% of the fattening places (GEB-IDELE 2011).

Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia are specialized in dairy production, thus fattened mainly calves from dairy farms to produce veal and some of the young cattle imported from Eastern Europe (IDELE 2011). Veneto is specialized in fattening broutards imported mainly from France and from Charolais or Limousin breeds. The region accounted for 35% of the young bulls produced in 2011. Piedmont is partly a breeder-fattening region using a local breed, the Piedmontese and partly a fattening region from French broutards from the Blonde d’Aquitaine breed qualitatively close to the local breed. This region accounts for 18% of the country fattening places (GEB-IDELE 2011). The rest of the country represent a marginal part of the beef production in the country.

IT figure 20

In fattening farms, young bull and heifers are allotted to be fattened for 5 to 7 months with a highly concentrated diet allowing for a high weight gain. Diets are mainly based on corn silage or flour completed with co-products, soybean meals and straw (GEB-IDELE 2011).