24 November 1995

Bad publicity forces cull cow prices down

By Tim Relf

CULL cow prices have tumbled as the effects of the "specified bovine offal" levy dispute and adverse BSE publicity are felt in markets.

Numbers fell early last week as farmers postponed marketing. The MLC says entries in the first three days, for example, were down by over 40%.

And, at 78.86p/kg, prices over the same period were 5.32p less than the week before.

Early markets this week report no improvement in trade.

Auctioneer Alistair Sneddon at Bakewell says prices averaged 75p/kg on Monday. Trade two weeks earlier (Nov 6) had been at about the 85p/kg level.

Mr Sneddon attributes much of the recent decline to the poorer quality show of animals on offer. "Our advice to farmers was hang on to the better cows and only market those they wanted to be without."

Plus, he says, prices achieved immediately before the onset of the dispute may have been slightly inflated anyway as buyers bought keenly, anticipating a possible interruption to supplies.

Old BSE revelations

Like most auctioneers, he is dismissive of recent TV coverage of BSE describing it as "old revelations, freshly served".

John Titman, who sells cull cows at Taunton, says last Saturday saw an entry of 115; typically, he would have expected nearer the 250-mark.

Although prices were down, demand was helped by farmer-buyers looking for grazing cows, he points out.

"We have had another bout of BSE propaganda," he says. "But the recent media interest in the Royal family, following Princess Dianas television interview, may divert attention from the subject," he says.

Also having noticed the tendency of "showing the worst and keeping the best" is Derbys David Cook. He saw trade drop 10p/kg last Friday, with entries reduced by about one-third.

Clean beef prices, meanwhile, have been less affected. The MLC says steers fell 1.82p to 126.42p/kg early last week.

"The cull cow trade is in fewer hands and so if a few of the big players stay out, it has more impact," suggests Mr Sneddon.

As farmers weekly went to press, with no immediate resolution to the SBO dispute imminent, farmers were faced with the choice of holding on to culls or marketing them and taking a discount.

Farmers can always take stock home if they are unhappy with the price that looks like being made at market, says Mr Sneddon. "Most are philosophical, they accept that some weeks the price will be up slightly and some weeks it will be down."

But there is always the danger, points out David Lock at Frome, that if a backlog builds up, values will be affected when they come to the market.

"It is a shame but all this has created a rather difficult atmosphere as the Christmas primestock shows get underway," he adds. &#42