By FWi staff

BEEF producers are looking forward to turning the corner after a year which many would rather forget.

Other than the lifting of the beef ban, which has yet to have any real effect on the market, returns remained lower than last year for all but the luckiest producers.

The year appeared to start reasonably well, with many finished cattle averaging about 107p/kg.

But prices fell away to the 85-90p/kg level before plummeting to less than 80p/kg in August.

Analysts blamed the economic crisis in Russia which traditionally imports 40% of the European Unions beef production.

With the market lost for 8000 tonnes of beef a week, there was a sudden glut of cattle with no-one to buy them.

It remains to be seen whether the Russian market will re-open next year and other markets may have to be sought.

Finished cattle trends, 1998

In the meantime, an increased supply of competing meat products such as pork and lamb has put further downward pressure on beef prices.

However, cattle values recovered slightly in the run-up to Christmas with top quality samples at the Christmas fairs edging up towards 90p/kg.