13 November 1998

No consolation in MLCfigures

BELEAGUERED livestock producers will draw little comfort from the Meat and Livestock Commissions latest Quarterly Outlook publications.

Supplies of cattle hitting the market are now slightly higher than this time last year and, although total imports will be down by nearly 20% on 1997, the market will be weakened by beef sold out of intervention stores. And at the end of September, more than 90,000t was in store in the UK, reports the MLC.

Slaughter cattle availability is likely to be even higher next year, partly reflecting the expansion in the breeding herd. About half the calves that might otherwise have gone in to the processing scheme could be reared, says the MLC.

"Given the expected continued pressure from low prices of competing meats and potential pressure from high imported supplies next year, there is little scope for improvement in producer prices," concludes the report.

In the sheep sector, meanwhile, the prospect looms of a repeat of last years marketing bottleneck, when big numbers hit the market in the post-Christmas period.

In a normal season, about 60% of lambs are sold in the final six months of the year – although this fell to 54% in 1997, with a bumper 26% then put through in the Jan-Mar period.

The drop in skin values, together with plentiful supplies of other meats, will also depress returns. The verdict: "Continued pressure on prices for the rest of this year and into the first quarter of 1999."