Beef trade steady as processors secure Christmas supply

Cattle prices have been holding firm in the run up to Christmas. 

The seasonal peak in beef demand has kept finished values steady, with numbers sticking close to last year and the trade closely balanced.

AHDB’s weekly report found the British all-prime average climbed a penny to 349.8p/kg deadweight in the week to 12 November.

This means prices have stuck close to the 350p/kg mark for the past five weeks. 

See also: More meat needed to fill demand for British

But the levy board said there had been a general reluctance to increase quotations, due to caution about the strength of beef demand over the festive period. 

Jonny Williams, livestock procurement officer at marketing co-operative Farm Stock Scotland, said the market had been firm and there had been no long waits for getting cattle into abattoirs – which was an encouraging sign.

Tighter weight limits

Mr Williams, whose group markets about 4,000 cattle and 170,000 sheep a year on behalf of its 1,000 members, said the tighter weight limits could have been a factor.

With fewer very heavy cattle coming forward, there may have been a lower volume of beef around, he said.

“Supply and demand is really very balanced in cattle at the moment,” Mr Williams said.

“And some of the firms will complete their Christmas kill [this] week.”

The liveweight trade has been in line with the deadweight trend, with the British prime steers average sticking between 186p/kg and 194p/kg since mid-September.

Bernie Hutchinson, senior partner at Barbers Auctions, sold 195 clean cattle and young bulls last Wednesday (16 November) at Market Drayton, Shropshire.

Good returns

He told Farmers Weekly in-spec cattle were still finding a premium, but even bigger animals were finding good returns.

Cheaper imports had become more expensive since the Brexit vote, he said, and wholesalers did not have significant volumes of boxed meat. 

Mr Hutchinson added he did not expect a repeat of last year’s sharp drop-off in prices in the first week of December. 

“I think it is going to hold pretty well,” he said. 

Any caution from abattoirs might be explained by a drag in British beef consumption.

Retail spending on fresh and frozen beef was down 5.7% at £448.8m in the 12 weeks to 9 October, according to Kantar figures.

Volumes were down 1.5% at 59,240t.

“While processors are very active in the market as they ensure that their chill rooms are full enough for the seasonal peak in demand at Christmas, there is still a degree of caution in the air,”  AHDB’s report said.

“If consumer demand for beef is not as robust as would ‘normally’  be expected, they may be left with sizeable quantities of product to move on to the retail market in the new year.”