Beef farmers are being urged to market primestock carefully this summer in a bid to soothe an increasingly nervous market.
Beef values have fallen sharply after the recent heatwave put graziers under pressure, forcing many to sell cattle to avoid the costs of supplementary feeding, just when record July temperatures slashed beef consumption.
Deadweight values for R4L steers reached 212p/kg in England and Wales in early July, but tumbled to just 205.6p/kg this week. Scottish R4L prices slipped below 220p/kg for the first time in several weeks.
After a meeting of British and Irish farming unions, NFU livestock board chairman Thomas Binns said:
“Farmers should hold their nerve at a time when seasonal circumstances are proving challenging.
“We recognise that forage availability and cash flows are important management considerations, but animals that are ready to go should be marketed in an orderly manner to avoid market imbalance.”
Major processors had told the unions their fridges were full and some were operating waiting lists.
But Mr Binns hoped for an improvement in the autumn.
“The medium-term fundamentals on the British beef market remain strong and demand across Europe remains firm.”
But he hinted that retailers had to play their part.
“We call on our partners in the supply chain to ensure these difficult periods don’t undermine the growing confidence among producers and finishers.”
Beef farmers in the south west and Wales have been hit hardest.
Mark Thomas, south-west chairman of the National Beef Association, said prices had dropped by 10p/kg in some cases.
“An R4L suckler-bred animal is back now to 197p/kg.
“The worst thing farmers can do is to flood the market with cattle at this stage,” Mr Thomas said.
“But I believe there is a will among retailers to hold cattle prices at sensible levels and not let them slip back.”
A spokesman for processor ABP, which supplies Sainsbury’s, said retail sales of prime beef had plummeted 40% in the past five weeks.
“It’s undoubtedly due to the hot weather, and we’re now into the holiday month of August.”
Beef sales were expected to be weaker for four to five weeks, he added.