"THE year after BSE". That is how cattle farmers regard 1997.
But the crisis is by no means over. The year opens, for example, with no prospect of any immediate resumption of exports.
The two key factors, therefore, in determining demand will be domestic consumption and intervention, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Consumer confidence has partly recovered from the all-time low to which it sank.
But the processing sector remains badly hit.
And 1997 will see more cattle destined for the food chain.
An 8% rise is likely to take the total to 2.32m head, with the over-30-month kill expected to account for 65,000 prime cattle, compared with this years figure of 300,000.
The bulk of these will be heifers – some retained for breeding and found not to be in-calf; others excluded from the food chain due to the dentition rules.
Limiting slaughterings, however, will be the continued contraction of the breeding herd, as the effects of genetic and management improvements are felt.
Together with the recently announced selective cull, the result could be another 4% contraction in 1997.
Also impacting upon supplies – especially in the second half of the year – will be the calf slaughter scheme.
Over 600,000 calves – of which one-sixth could be beef types – could be killed under the calf processing scheme in the year ahead.
Overall, however, there will be a return to a more traditional marketing pattern. And so price trends will probably be more predictable.
Averages are expected to spend much of the coming year in the 100p-105p/kg range, according to the MLC. The second and final quarter will mark the high points, when up to 110p/kg could be seen.
Returns will suffer slightly, however, as the basic rate of beef special premium falls £5 to about £83 a head.
And the basic rate of extensification payment will be £2 less at £29.
Theres the intervention "market", too. This year it took 37,400t from Great Britain and a slightly smaller amount from Northern Ireland. Such amounts could be repeated next year.
Overall, "selective" will probably be the best way to describe demand. For farmers producing young bulls – for which there is a more limited choice of outlets than steers – this is particularly true.
Finding a market before you produce the animal will never have been better advice than in 1997.