A Welsh livestock market©John Eveson/FLPA/Rex Shutterstock

Sliding beef prices could start to level and improve over the rest of the year, according to latest forecasts.

Levy board Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) said the market could soon firm, after heavy carcass weights and a strong pound saw prices ease this spring.

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The GB all-steers deadweight price dropped from 365.5p/kg in mid-January to 341.4p/kg at the end of last week.

Beef values fell despite the number of cattle slaughtered being similar to or slightly below last year – steer numbers were up, while young bulls and heifers were down.

Total UK prime cattle slaughterings in March were 1% down on the year at 153,200 head.

QMS head of economics services Stuart Ashworth said the supply-and-demand pendulum should swing back in the farmer’s favour.

“We know the availability of prime cattle in Scotland, the UK and Ireland will diminish so, in the next quarter, we expect to see the volume of cattle arriving at abattoirs slow down,” he said.

“It is likely that we will then begin to see some firmness in the market for the beef producer.”

Shoppers have not been buying enough beef overall to make up for the drop-off in exports due to the strength of sterling.

UK beef exports in the first quarter of the 2015 fell 2,500t on the year, while imports rose 4,500t.

“Some cuts have been selling better than others but the product which is not selling well has been building up in processors’ chills and has had to find a market in the manufacturing trade, which has been proving sluggish,” said Mr Ashworth.

Tough trading conditions for finished animals have been reported at marts across the UK.

Auctioneer Mark Burgoyne, at Bridgnorth market, said the prime cattle trade at his Tuesday sale (21 April) was the worst for a long time, heading down to last year’s prices.

He said this was particularly a problem for cattle not meeting supermarket specification.

Figures earlier this month showed 52% of prime beef carcasses hit R4L or better last year.

“There is not too much demand, [the retailers] only want what they want and it has to be the right price,” Mr Burgoyne said.

“There are a few more cattle about ready and the downward pressure has not necessarily created more sales.”

Another auctioneer from the north of England described the fat trade as “very sticky”, with good numbers around that were hard to shift.

He said the downturn could not have come at a worse time of year, as a lot of farmers had spent money feeding cattle indoors for the past four or five months.

The latest report from Eblex suggested cow prices were faring better, rising 4p/kg to 229p/kg a fortnight ago.

More than 44,000 cows were slaughtered in March – 4.3% more than last year.

“It is looking like the challenges in the dairy sector may be resulting in an increase in the number of cows coming forward,” the levy board said.