6 September 1996

More bad news on the way for those selling stores?

FARMERS have stopped asking whether store cattle values will fall. The question now is how much lower will they go?

The all-weights average store steer price in the week to Aug 24 stood at 92.6p/kg. This marks a fall of nearly 17p/kg on the figure a year earlier.

As recently as early July, however, values were at 114p/kg. But since then, prime stock values have weakened, dragging down confidence around store rings.

"The least demand and the poorest trade for many years," was how the auctioneers described the situation at Exeter, Devon, last Friday, where 288 stores were sold.

Prices were about £80 or £100 a head down on a year ago, according to auctioneer Alan Webber. Only the very top-quality stores are selling well, he says. Second and third quality sorts remain very hard to place.

"But vendors are choosing to sell them on the depressed trade, rather than incur more expenditure by taking them home and hanging on to them."

Like many, Mr Webber blames the poor returns obtainable for finished cattle and the compensation rates available for over 30-month-old beasts. "Trade could go lower still," he fears.

Auctioneer Geoff Dolling at Taunton, Somerset, agrees that with steers values down 25% on last year, and heifers even harder hit, stores look cheap. But in the present climate of falling prices, what is cheap? he asks.

Entries at Taunton have been 50% down on 1995 in some weeks, as farmers delay selling.

"But any change in the weather, prompting cattle to be yarded, would put pressure on space and forage. And numbers forward would rise rapidly as a result," suggests Mr Dolling.

Elsewhere it is a similar story. Auctioneer Richard Wood at Ashford, Kent, also reckons entries have been about 50% down.

"There may be a lot more fodder than this time last year, but there is no enthusiasm." And as a result steers are worth about £150 apiece less than last year.

Were the export ban to be lifted, the prime beef trade would immediately improve – and stores would follow, he suggests.

How different, meanwhile, the store sheep trade is. Lambs averaged £39 a head at Ashford last Friday.

Only the worst are selling for below £30; this time last year it was only the best that were topping £30, says Mr Wood. &#42