By Peter Grimshaw

FINISHED cattle prices have continued their relentless decline in the dog days since mid-June, and last weeks falls have brought prices equivalent to those of the same time last year.

Mondays averages for all heifers and steers were struggling to hang on to 91p, and prices at markets at the end of last week had dropped through the 90p marker for all but the best quality stock.

The chilly deluge that ended a long run of hot weather may arrest the slide, as shoppers remember cooked meals. But no real improvement can be expected until schools and workplaces are once again in full swing.

Even then, prices could take some weeks to stabilise. Last year, the price slump accelerated at the end of August and showed no improvement until October was all-but over.

The “natural” market is not being helped by the Intervention Boards apparent determination to clear stocks as quickly as possible.

MLC economist Jane Connor says this is mostly forequarter beef, which is meeting a trade glutted with the usual holiday season surplus of similar meat.

“The forequarter trade has come under some pressure as a result of recent releases from stores,” she says. “There have been reasonable quantities coming out for some time.”

The beef management committee adjudicated a sale of 2500t from UK stores on 30 July, which affected the last couple of weeks and will do so for some days to come.

At the same meeting the BMC announced further sales amounting to some 7000t from UK stores that could be adjudicated for release at the end of the month, thus affecting September markets.

The good news is that the relentless programme of releases is working stocks down. With estimates of roughly 25,000t in stores in mid-July, the Intervention Board is well on track to clear stocks by the early new year.

Meanwhile, trade comment reflects a quiet but familiar situation.

Ludlows John Uffold believes producers still have much to learn about presenting well-finished animals before their 30-month time is up. With well-finished stronger stock in demand on Monday, heavy steers averaged 96p, and mediums 90p.

The average for heavy heifers was 92p, and for mediums, 88p. Prices were a shade down, although not by much, says Mr Uffold. But they could have been better.

“Certainly our trade suggested that although average prices may have eased, there is still a shortage of best-fleshed cattle,” he comments.

“Cattle are continually coming up to their time, and must be sold. Until the recent wet weather, some areas were beginning to get short of grass.

“Unless they have been fed outside, quite a lot that are coming up to 30 months old are very marginal.”

He warns that UK farmers risk complacency about the quality of imported beef supplies.

“Its wrong to think that all of the stuff coming in is rubbish. But weve got a position whereby some of the cheaper imported meat is affecting the bottom end. Its coming in largely thanks to the strength of the Pound.

“My best advice to producers is to present the cattle as fit as they possibly can. There are plenty of half-meaty cattle on the market,” he concludes.