8 March 2002

Recovery is still unclear after F&M

By James Garner

NEARLY three weeks after livestock markets reopened their doors it is still unclear how they are recovering from a year without sales.

Up to last Saturday, 62 centres were recording prices with the Meat and Livestock Commission, 27 more than the week before as more venues were granted licences to operate.

The MLCs figure is not a complete picture as some markets do not report prices. However, the volumes of stock passing through markets can be compared with two years ago to show how the sector is rebuilding after foot-and-mouth.

Last week, throughout Great Britain 3561 prime cattle were sold through the marts, that is a quarter of the throughput seen during the same week in 2000, when just over 14,000 cattle passed through auction rings.

Prime lamb numbers have also been slow to rebuild. Two years ago last week, saw 119,183 hoggets pass under the hammer, compared with just 34,352 last week. That is 29% of 2000 levels.

The comparison is a little unfair, as both prime lambs and prime cattle numbers have shrunk dramatically in Great Britain, largely due to F&M.

According to the MLC, cattle and calf slaughterings were 15% down on January 2001, while total sheep slaughterings in the same period were 23% lower.

The organisation estimates prime sheep numbers being 15-20% down this year on last, and forecasts a 10% drop in prime cattle numbers.

Peter Kingwill, chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, reckons more marts have reopened than those currently reporting prices to the MLC, but has no exact figures.

And he believes that throughputs would be better if DEFRA made some changes to the regulations, as it promised when markets reopened.

"We are still very disappointed that hauliers are not allowed to make multiple drop-offs. We want to ensure that marketing stores and calves is as flexible as possible to encourage producers to rear calves."

When marketing is difficult, rearers are unlikely to do it, says Mr Kingwill. A good store trade has buoyed markets, but repealing the rules on multiple drop-offs would ensure more cattle could be transferred to finishing farms this spring, he adds. &#42