14 March 1996

Cattle prices down while imports bite

By Tim Relf

MORE bad news for beef farmers this week, as cattle prices fell again.

Steer values were down nearly 3p to 97.57p/kg on Monday, as pressure from imports and reduced intervention buying took its toll.

Beef tonnages of between 1200t and 2200t have been typical for each of the first four intervention tenders of 1997, compared with 3000t-plus last autumn.

Auctioneer Paul Gentry at Newark, Notts, says part of the problem is the big intervention scale-backs. (Only 25% of steer bids were accepted at the late-February round.)

"If a larger proportion were accepted, this would then take more of the intervention-specification cattle off the market and, in turn, help the price of the rest."

Cheap imports are also to blame, says Mr Gentry, who saw the lowest prices at Newark last Wednesday (Mar 5) since the BSE crisis first broke.

For many farmers, the situation is worse than then, he says, because lower over-thirty-month-scheme compensation has effectively removed this as an option.

But farmers cant rely too heavily on intervention in the coming weeks, with no more tenders this month, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Prices for much of 1997 are likely to be stable, however, with a modest rise in consumption offsetting the drop in intervention business.

Adverse publicity about E. coli and abattoir conditions hasnt helped consumer confidence either, according to auctioneer Richard Grainger at Hereford.

And in this climate, communication with the customer remains vital, stresses Bedfordshire butcher Peter Harper.

"If abattoirs anticipate a drop in demand, they wont buy as much. So anything that disturbs their confidence will cause them not to bid, even if this has nothing to do with what is happening at the retail end."n