Beef prices have remained constrained in 2019 but reports suggest things could be starting to improve.
An autumn cattle surplus filled chillers and left a backlog last year as rising costs and forage shortages meant cattle were offloaded to avoid expensive winter feeding bills.
However, early reports are that deadweight prices are beginning to move in the right direction, although much depends on future cattle supply.
AHDB data shows deadweight steer prices were back 10p/kg on the year at roughly 353p/kg for 13.4% fewer cattle processed for the first week of January.
Similarly, a 22% reduction in deadweight bull throughput in the first week of January coincided with a price of 323p/kg, a drop of 13p/kg on the year.
Clean cattle trade remains “a bit flat”, but cow trade seemed a little brighter since Christmas, said Greenslade Taylor Hunt’s Robert Venner.
“This is related to cows being better fed. We aren’t seeing as many straight-out-the-parlour types,” Mr Venner said.
“Consumers turn to cheaper cuts and mince in January after Christmas spending and cows come a bit dearer. I anticipate cow prices to rise fairly soon and you hear that there aren’t too many queues on the prime side as well.”
Monday’s sale (14 January) saw 68 barrens with continentals averaging 107.3p/kg, natives at 105.9p/kg and dairy cows at 89p/kg, with cows over £900 a head in all classes.
The best bullocks have been making 200p/kg and more, with the best butcher types at 215-225p/kg. Standard commercial cattle and dairy-cross lots have been around 185p/kg.
Mr Venner, an AHDB livestock board member, said levy money should be invested in “reputational protection” of beef and communicating its health and environmental credentials.
“This is what farmers pay their levy money for – marketing is important,” he said. “We need a response from the demand side of the market.”
Cow trade remains about £120 a head back on last year’s peaks, with prime cattle very similar on the year at Selby, where auctioneer Richard Haigh said backlogs seemed have eased and cattle were moving to slaughter slightly easier.
Last week’s sale (9 January) saw 121 heifers average 221p/kg, 52 steers at 198p/kg and 114 bulls at 187p/kg, with heavy bulls at 205p/kg.
Mr Haigh said: “Our vendors are concerned about the current publicity red meat seems to be getting, but the political situation is probably more at the forefront.
“Being told we need to cut livestock numbers is understandably quite headline-worthy. The image of our product always seems under pressure. It’s a constant job to keep it looking like an attractive option for consumers.”