By Peter Grimshaw

AVERAGE deadweight prices for cattle firmed slightly up to last weekend, but the general trend is still weak, and major buyers expect this weeks MLC statistics to fall further.

The average price for all steers sold in Great Britain in the week ended last Saturday was 180.3p/kg.

This was held up by the Scottish average of 195.2p, more than 20p/kg better than the England and Wales average of 174.5p.

These prices held, even though more cattle are now beginning to come off grass, especially in Scotland.

But the improvement looks like being a temporary blip. MMPs Tim Bastable says he has been able to buy cattle cheaper in the current week than last.

Meanwhile, demand is stuck in the summer doldrums. “Even if the weather has turned cool and wet, people just havent the appetite for casseroles at this time of year,” says Mr Bastable.

He reports that quality of cattle now coming off grass in increasing numbers is good but, he says, it makes little difference to the demand.

Looking ahead, he sees little prospect of improvement until well into the autumn. “The cattle supply is looking fairly strong until well into November,” he says.

The trade always falls to pieces at this time of year, says Andrew Chitty, of Chitty Meats. “The world is very quiet – the quietest two weeks since the start of the BSE crisis,” he reports. “Has everybody gone away?”

And he has little comfort to offer, at least in the short term. “I think the level were at is where well be for at least a month. Dont forget its 6-7% above the price that producers were getting a year ago.”

Abundant intervention beef and a hide price that is £5-7 less than that of last year add to the gloom.

He hopes the additional cattle that can be expected to come to the market in September may meet a stronger demand as life gets back to normal.

Until then, all the public wants is a bit of steak – and hamburgers. Forequarters would be valueless were it not for the continuing demand for fast foods.

“Thank God for burgers,” says Mr Chitty. “Without them, I dont know where wed be.”