Prime cattle prices remain challenged, although some positive news has come in the form of shorter abattoir waiting lists and tightening cattle numbers.
However, farmers, auctioneers and industry leaders do not expect an immediate upturn in beef values as manufacturing beef supplies remain strong and chillers remain well stocked.
Recent deadweight prices of 320p/kg for R-grade cattle in the north of England and 326-330p/kg for U-grades in Northern Ireland have been reported by Farmers Weekly sources.
In response to the market situation, the National Beef Association has urged farmers to lobby MPs and combat supermarket and abattoir power by forming producer groups.
Cattle appear to be scarcer in the East Midlands, which could start helping the price, according to auctioneer James Sealy of Newark Livestock Auctions, who is seeing bulls trade at similar levels to last year.
Last week’s (11 July) prime throughput was down 36% (112-head) on the year, with 66 bulls (181p/kg), 48 steers (186p/kg), 92 heifers (200p/kg) and 38 over-30-month cattle sold.
This means clean cattle were more than 15p/kg back on the year, but bulls faired reasonably well, only seeing a 10p/kg decrease.
“We are seeing the cow and bull beef hold relatively firm as this is the cheaper beef to buy,” Mr Sealy told Farmers Weekly. “Bulls have a higher kill out percentage, which could also help.”
Prices have been, in general, 8-10p/kg back on the year at Thirsk, but auctioneer Tony Thompson says good, well-finished stock are making £70-£100 a head or more over the current depressed deadweight price.
“Quite a lot of our cattle make the equivalent of 340-370p/kg when converting the price to deadweight,” Mr Thompson told Farmers Weekly. “Most deadweight firms are talking 320-330p/kg for an R-grade.”
An entry of 135 clean cattle saw heifers average 222p/kg (-8p/kg on the year) last week (10 July) and steers make 191p/kg, compared to 192p/kg last year.
The 82 bulls that went under the hammer levelled at 164p/kg (-2p/kg back on the year), with Mr Thompson explaining that bull demand is “steadier”, particularly for heavier animals.
He warned that Britain could go the way of Ireland, adding: “If the abattoirs had been fair with farmers around the time of foot-and-mouth, I think the prime marts would have struggled to get going again at all.”