Beef farmers in the south west have adapted extremely well to the ending of the over-30-months scheme, and confidence in the industry is growing.

Peter Kingwill, market director at Premier Livestock Auctioneers’ Frome Market, said a new sector was developing as farmers bought older and thinner cows to fatten and sell on.

“People in the south west have learnt immediately.

They have come into the market to see what is selling well, and the whole industry is finding itself again.”

Older cattle prices were firm following the ending of the over-30-months scheme on 20 January, said Mr Kingwill.

“The concern was that the volume of older cows would suddenly swamp a regrowing industry.

But a lot of cattle were culled before the scheme ended and numbers are only beginning to creep up now.

That’s allowed a considerable degree of strength to come back into the market place.”

Average returns were well ahead of those received under the OTMS, at over 80p/kg for prime older beef, compared with 55-56p/kg three months ago, said Mr Kingwill.

The best dairy cows were making over 70p/kg, with plainer cows getting 40-55p/kg.

Younger cows were being bought for fattening at 40-65p/kg, he added.

“Prime cattle prices are also firming slowly each week – the confidence is there.”

With the banning of imports from Brazil and Argentina due to foot-and-mouth, plus shorter supplies from Ireland, prices were reaching 120p/kg amid strong consumer demand, he said.

“Returns are still pretty marginal, but it’s moving in the right direction.”

Confidence in the market was also feeding through to store cattle prices, said Andrew Varney, auctioneer at Hatherleigh Market, Devon.

“Store cattle trade is tremendous at the moment.

A lot of people sold their stores a bit early to avoid the pre-movement testing, and we had double the usual numbers in February.”

Prices were 20-25/head up week on week, he said.

olivia.cooper@rbi.co.uk