25 April 1997

Lack of rain puts dent in beef values

By Tim Relf

EVEN the weather, it seems, is conspiring against beef farmers this year.

Drought conditions have hit grass growth and left store buyers – already mindful of the lacklustre finished cattle values – extremely cautious.

"Look at the grass on the Kent marshes and you would think its the middle of June," says auctioneer Alan Mummery at Maidstone.

Prices for some of the less sought-after beasts have "dropped like a stone," says Mr Mummery. "Even the best yearling steers on green CIDs have dropped £50/head since February."

Unlike last autumn, those animals for which there is no prospect of getting a second subsidy payment are proving very hard to shift. "Those that would have been traditionally bought for the feeding margin, rather than the payment.

"But the ground is warm. So with rain, it could soon be a different picture," says Mr Mummery.

At nearby Ashford, auctioneer Richard Wood says the fall could be as much as £100/head on six weeks ago.

His advice to sellers is: "Hold out for a reasonable price; dont give them away."

But with brown pastures, some people may not have sufficient grass to delay selling them, adds Mr Wood.

At Taunton, Somerset, however, auctioneer Geoffrey Dolling says he was expecting a drop, although trade has maintained itself.

Some commentators, meanwhile, say weaker prices were inevitable. In the first three months of the year, for example, store steers averaged only 8% down on 1996, despite a drop of nearly a fifth in finished cattle prices.n