Beef prices dip slightly in face of lamb influx

15 September 2000

Beef prices dip slightly in face of lamb influx

By Simon Wragg

BEEF prices took a slight knock last week when the overall GB value slipped to 87.9p/kg liveweight, a fall of 1.5p/kg on the week, against competition from an increase in lamb numbers entering the meat market.

Slight fluctuations must be taken in context, says the Meat and Livestock Commission. The two sectors compete for sales and while cattle numbers have been reasonable constant the sheep sector is now working up to the seasonal high backed by some in-store promotions by leading retailers.

But beef finishers have little cause for complaint, say some. Returns from sales have been uncharacteristically steady at 88p/kg cross the summer buoyed up by a possible swing in the number taking advantage of this years low grain prices, says MLCs Duncan Sinclair.

"Feeding cereals gives producers a greater degree of certainty and control compared with grass-finished cattle. Prices also have not suffered from the availability of intervention beef, which was a feature of last years market."

There is little evidence that the emptying of the last commodity beef from EU stores is sucking in imports. Retail sales of mince are up to about 42% of the all beef purchases suggesting abattoirs have seen more calls for domestic forequarter cuts to supply the market, albeit at a low price.

But there is concern that the quality of some grass-fed stock is affecting the national picture. Newark-based auctioneer Paul Gentry says some cattle coming forward for the prime ring "are showing signs of losing their backs".

"Prices will suffer, but looking at the best end we are still getting bids up to 120-130p/kg for heifers and steers. Averages would be about 98p/kg throughout."

The average national price could be undermined again this week but for a different reason. Threat of fuel shortages affected some prime markets earlier in the week. Ludlows Monday sale experienced a slow trade, says auctioneer Richard Gwilym.

"Some buyers are hesitant not knowing whether they will be able to move meat when they have got it back to the plant," he says. That reason and a relative increase in the number of stock coming in under finished as good grazing dries up locally combined to ease averages by about 2p/kg.

Meat traders are hopeful the supply chain wont be disrupted if demonstrations are eased. Larger outfits suggest they have enough diesel for at least a week. "Supermarket trade appears to be normal; people still need to shop even if that means walking to a store," says Midland Meat Packers Shaun Baker. &#42

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