29 March 1996

Cull cow trade grinds to halt

EMPTY pens and ringsides devoid of buyers. That is the scene which cull cow auctioneers have faced this week as the BSE crisis deepens.

"We had one forward on Monday," says Roddy James at Cardigan, Dyfed. "And we didnt get a single bid for her." Only a week before, the mart had seen over 100 culls sold, to average 77.6p/kg.

As elsewhere the lack of trade was expected. And those buyers that did attend wanted sheep.

"The biggest problem we now face is re-opening the export markets, upon which the cull cow trade depends," suggests Mr James.

"It is not that there is a bad trade at present," says auctioneer Peter Kingwill at Chippenham, Wilts. "There just isnt a market for them at all."

Mr Kingwill says there was some interest from speculators for the 48 forward last Friday, taking the average to 60p/kg. But within days, even that interest had disappeared. "There is not a single buyer around," he said on Tuesday.

At Bakewell, Derbys, only four were forward on Monday. Three made between 44p/kg and 61.5p/ kg and one went home unsold.

There, as elsewhere, auctioneer Alistair Sneddon was advising farmers not to bring them to market.

"Dairy farmers have traditionally relied upon the value of the cull as an important part of their income, representing between one-half and one-third of the price of a new dairy cow," says Mr Sneddon.

Such predicaments are typical, with MLC sample markets showing only 18 sold on Monday, compared with 1400 the week before.

The calf trade has not escaped, either. Auctioneer David Hastings at Crewe, Cheshire, says about 100 were forward on Monday, compared with the 250 typically seen.

Black-and-white calves have been worst hit, averaging about £40. This is less than half the previous weeks figure. In the absence of export movement, demand is being helped by home-rearers, says Mr Hastings. &#42