Beef cow eating© Tim Scrivener

The prime cattle trade has leapt ahead of last year for the first time in 2016, after the steady improvement since the spring continued over the summer.

The British all-prime deadweight average rose 4p/kg in the week ending 27 August, as prices hit 349p/kg, just ahead of the same period in 2015.

Values shot up 14p/kg in August alone, with processors reportedly competing for the best cattle to meet retailers’ needs.

See also: Tighter Irish beef supplies to ease pressure on UK market

At the marts, liveweight prices moved ahead of last year’s levels in the middle of the month but have since been more stable.

The British all-steers liveweight average reached 191.55p/kg at the end of August – 1.5p/kg higher than four weeks earlier.  

The prime cattle trade has improved, especially for the quality end of the market Scott Donaldson, Harrison & Hetherington

Scott Donaldson, sales director at auctioneer Harrison & Hetherington, said the deadweight trade was showing “slow and steady” gains.

And the liveweight trade, where his firm sells prime stock at Carlisle and St Boswells, was more positive, with fierce competition for cattle in Scotland especially.

“The prime cattle trade has improved, especially for the quality end of the market,” Mr Donaldson said.

“Numbers are definitely quite tight at this time of year.

“Most of the processors have got their killing weight down, so we are killing cattle lighter and lighter.

“It appears there is less beef in the system, which is helping the trade.”

See also: Large Scottish stock-rearing farm hits market

Supplies have been close to or below 2015 over the past four weeks, which will have supported prices.

Total British market throughputs were down 7.8% on the year at 14,300 head, while deadweight steer and heifer numbers were a little more plentiful.

Supply and demand balance

AHDB Beef and Lamb senior analyst Debbie Butcher said supply and demand continued to be in better balance.

“Retail demand is reported to be faring well, particularly for specific products being sold under specialised retail schemes,” she said.

“Reports suggest cattle are being placed easily, with processor requirements continuing to drive competition.

“This is compounded by the fact the recent bout of fine weather could well have meant that some producers have been focusing on harvest activities, rather than the selection of livestock.”

Greg Ridout, auctioneer at Symonds & Sampson, sold 68 fat cattle at Frome, Somerset on 31 August, with steers under 30 months averaging 158.3p/kg and heifers 172.3p/kg.

He said there was a good demand, especially for the butcher types, which were selling at a premium, but numbers were fairly limited.

“In general there is a bit more confidence in the whole industry at the moment,” Mr Ridout said.