13 December 1996

Finished cattle rally comes to its conclusion

By Tim Relf

THE recent rally in finished cattle prices has run out of steam.

Average auction values at the start of this week held steady at about 110p/kg lw for finished steers, with young bulls slipping over 1p to 106p/kg. Heifers, however, saw a marked improvement to 112p/kg, reflecting better quality animals on offer.

The slump in intervention buying is the main reason for the static trade in male animals, with only 16% of the steer meat tendered from the UK accepted in the adjudication at the end of November.

This translated into 146t of steer fore quarters and 150t of sides. Just 36t of bull beef was accepted.

Another tender closed on Tuesday (Dec 10). But the prediction of Newark auctioneer Paul Gentry is that there probably wont be any significant volumes involved until the next contract in mid-January.

Meanwhile, animals of dubious quality continue to be marketed. Under-finishing is a problem, says David Cook, auctioneer at Derby.

Farmers are fearful that, under the age and dentition rules, any delay could see stock precluded from an open market sale and culled on the BSE scheme.

This panic to shift stock meant some heifers, which went through the finished ring, were really stores, says Mr Cook. The lowest prices were 55p/kg, which helped drag the overall average back down below the 100p/kg-mark at Derby again last Friday. But the best were still making 133p/kg.

John Hughes, who sells at Lancaster, reckons no strengthening in the market until March is likely. "After Christmas, credit card bills will have arrived and people will be economising.

"But a shortage of finished cattle could soon be apparent, especially with the new wider calf slaughter scheme."

Alan Webber at Exeter, Devon, agrees that trade is traditionally weak in the period after Christmas. "So farmers may try and market more stock in the next coupe of weeks in anticipation of this."