By Tim Relf

SUCKLER cow quota is in short supply, with the 6 december deadline for submitting claim forms now just three weeks away.

Agents say little more is likely to become available, keeping prices buoyant and leaving many of the farmers still searching for supplies disappointed.

“Like gold dust,” says Richard Hyde of Sunderlands. People are keen to get the premium payment. “In times of troubled uncertainty like these, a definite payment is a big bonus.”

Further tightening of the supply/demand equation has come from “reluctant expansion” of suckler herds, he says. Low cull cow values have prompted farmers to keep stock another season, boosting the national herd size.

Some expansion, however, has been more planned with lowland herds established in the hope that the “ultimate traceability” brought by having stock on one farm from birth to slaughter will result in better beef prices, he says.

With the deadline looming, anyone looking for quota is running out of time, says Mr Hyde.

Demand is also getting a boost, according to a spokesperson for Ian Potter Associates, by the desire to maintain stock numbers in the face of a possible government aid package for stock farmers.

Mark Bray of ADAS says: “Quota is in short supply. There has been a big run on it.”

The extra demand has come not just from people postponing slaughtering cull cows, but also as farmers choose to keep heifers for breeding – and get premium on them – rather than slaughter them as meat animals.

“Smart finished heifers are making 60p/kg liveweight – thats about £280 for a 400kg animal. So its tempting to run them on and focus on the subsidised end.”

And its not just the basic premium of £112/cow, either, says Mr Bray. There are additional payments for stocking densities below 1.4 LU/ha and 1 LU/ha.

Not much more quota is likely to come on the market between now and the close of play, reckons Mr Bray. What does will be small amounts – the product of “fine-tuning”.

“Therell be a lot of disappointed producers struggling to find it. Next year, people should plan further forward – even if it means getting it in July.”

James Sheppard of Townsend has also seen an “all-round-shortage”. Some people are planning to delay selling cows until next year in the hope prices improve and, in the meantime, will get quota and claim premium. But this can, says Mr Sheppard, be a case of merely “postponing the inevitable”.

“Livestock prices may not improve – and you should bear in mind how much it will cost you to keep stock through the winter.”