By Simon Wragg
LITTLE improvement in prime cattle prices reflects steady beef sales through major retail outlets, but trade is expected to improve over the summer.
The average value of prime steers has hovered at about 90p/kg liveweight for weeks, say auctioneers.
Markets have been relatively quiet since a brief flurry of activity last December which pushed prices above 1/kg barrier at main venues.
But current prices are now back below last years level.
“It seems recent comments from those in the abattoir trade were right; it is a very price-sensitive market and, if there is cheaper beef available from elsewhere, it will be used,” comments one auctioneer.
Industry figures suggest returns have altered by just 5p/kg each side of 89p/kg for the past year. And that is set to continue.
Rather than finish at these levels, some farmers have opted for the firmer store-cattle market.
“Certainly, those cattle which are 22-24 months old and within a couple of months of finishing have been taking advantage of the difference in the current cattle trade,” says Lawrie & Symingtons Willie McCullock.
Longer-term, more cattle are expected to be marketed this year with the ending of the calf processing scheme in 1999, says the Meat & Livestock Commissions Duncan Sinclair.
But imports should ease, notably supplies from Ireland, which should fall after a surge of live cattle exports to southern Europe at the turn of the year.
However, intervention stocks are likely to continue affecting the market until summer, explains Mr Sinclair.
UK stores may be almost empty, but supplies taken out may still be being used by processors.
Consumer demand shows encouraging signs.
MLCs latest figures show a 2% increase in purchases on last year, mainly through mince sales and promotions on steaks.
Processed products containing beef are also likely to continue growing, it adds.
However, sales of roasting joints have fallen back.