20 June 1997

Intervention beef spec is too narrow

By Tim Relf

CALLS are mounting for a widening of the bull beef intervention specification.

Fat class 4 is ineligible, leaving traders reluctant to make tenders. Last Fridays adjudication, for example, saw 756t of bull beef accepted, compared with 1904t of steer meat.

Not only this, but this sector has been hit badly by the absence of an export trade, upon which it was once heavily dependent.

In the face of such lacklustre demand, national average prices have dipped to below 90p/kg. This marks a fall of over 10p/kg on March levels. And a fall of over 30p/kg, compared with pre-BSE crisis values.

"Trade has suffered because a lot traditionally went for export to Italy and Spain," says Jim Watson, auctioneer at Banbury, Oxon.

What this sector now needs, says Mr Watson, is a resumption of beef buying by the fast-food giants.

In the meantime, however, farmers should resist the temptation to take bulls on to heavier weights. "This is counterproductive – the heavier they get, the lower the price."

John Uffold, auctioneer at Ludlow, says the problem is that traders are cautious of the bull beef intervention system.

"They cant afford to have it rejected – because they then have to knock it out on the open market at less money than they paid for it."

Widening the specification to include fat class 4 would give buyers more confidence.

Meanwhile the strength of sterling is sucking in imports. Trade has been badly hit by the export ban and outlets at home are limited – so a lot of people have given up killing bulls, says Mr Uffold.

The best prices are being made by those in the 480kg to 540kg lw range. "Theyre as well sold as any – and the farmer is still marketing a beast of some weight."

Its a similar story with heifers, which are ineligible for intervention. Prices are showing big variations.

The top-priced heifers are those that fall within the supermarket specification, says Mr Uffold. "Those of between about 500kg and 560kg liveweight that are thin-skinned, good-shaped and well fleshed."

&#8226 The 1300 young bulls sold through MLC sample marts on Monday averaged 91p/kg.n