FALLING PRICES for beef cattle have caused an uncertain start to the store cattle trading season, say auctioneers.

Deadweight cattle prices have slipped in recent weeks from their 200p/kg-plus peak to average 194.2p/kg for R4L steers last week (w/e Sept 24), but many abattoirs are known to be paying as little as 184p/kg.

This has also put pressure on liveweight values.

Bob Oakes, auctioneer at Market Drayton, Shropshire, said rumours of cheap, eastern European beef in Smithfield market had added to the general malaise.

“We were all hoping the beef trade would bounce along towards Christmas. But a lot of cattle coming off grass now are not sufficiently finished, and this is levelling the trade.

“People are selling now to try to claim the last slaughter premiums.”

The biggest worries were still CAP reform and subsidies, said Mr Oakes.

To claim slaughter premium, the animal has to be sold and slaughtered by Dec 31, and trade was keenest for those that would still manage to claim.

“Age is now so critical. It has pushed trade further back than it really should have done. People are suspicious of cattle they don‘t know they can get finished and killed by Dec 31,” he said.

“But anything that will make two claims by the end of February 2005 [by deferring the retention period] is meeting a wizard trade – making £200 a head past their weight in some cases.”