Sliding beef prices stabilise as cattle numbers tighten

Plunging finished cattle prices have steadied in the last fortnight, as numbers continue to tighten.

Abattoir throughputs in the week ending 23 May were 4% lower on the year in England and Wales and 8% lower in Scotland.

The GB all-steers deadweight average had been falling almost weekly since the end of January, dropping 12% to 326.2p/kg by mid-May.

But last week prices crept up 0.2p/kg, with numbers dipping behind last year.

See also: Beef farmers face abattoir confusion, report finds

Quality Meat Scotland head of economics services Stuart Ashworth said the supply and demand imbalance appeared to be easing.

“The stabilisation of prime cattle prices and a modest increase for some grades suggests that the demand side of the equation has now firmed,” he said.

“Delays in getting cattle into abattoirs are reportedly shortening, suggesting that processor requirements have picked up.”

Mr Ashworth added the sliding stock numbers matched calf registration data from 2013. Bad spring weather hit the 2014 calf crop, tightening supplies for this year.

But the number of cattle under one year old is up on last year, suggesting supplies will recover, Mr Ashworth said.

Latest figures show UK prime cattle slaughterings in April were back 3% on the year at 183,600 head.

Steer throughputs were up on 2014 but this was offset by lower heifer and young bull numbers.

AHDB/Eblex senior analyst Debbie Butcher said in her May report that, despite the tighter supply, processors could remain cautious. The current fine weather might not boost demand for roasting cuts, she said.

“Coupled with the euro exchange rate and its impact on the competitiveness of imported product, this could well keep a lid on the trade.”

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