Cattle on up and up after 16-year low

11 July 1997

Cattle on up and up after 16-year low

By Tim Relf

CATTLE prices continue to recover in the face of tight supplies.

Monday saw steers average 101p/kg liveweight, up nearly 5p/kg on the week.

Figures for early June show, at about 45,000 head weekly, prime cattle slaughterings were running about 8% lower than at the same time in 1995.

According to Meat and Livestock Commission economist Duncan Sinclair, "landings" from Ireland have fallen recently, with farmers there having already sold stock while the de-seasonalisation premium was still available in early June.

And wet, cold weather has also slowed down stock growth. As the saying goes: "Theyre just not doing."

Farmers, meanwhile, have delayed selling in the face of prices which dipped to a 16-year low.

Fran Evans, Greenacre Farm, Taunton, has decided to postpone selling any cattle.

"Prices cant get any worse than their recent low – so theres no rush," she says.

Supplies will now tighten as the over-30-month-scheme, the calf slaughter programme and the shift toward lighter carcasses take their toll, says Mrs Evans.

"A lot of heifers have been put to the bull rather than sold finished," she adds.

Plentiful grass supplies and the wish to retain steers to claim the second beef subsidy payment may have also contributed to the lower marketings, says Mr Sinclair. "But whether delaying is possible depends on the breed of stock and the feeding regime.

"The temptation might be to hold off in the hope of catching the rising trade, but if animals get too fat or too heavy, they will be penalised," he warns.

Auctioneer Peter Kingwill at Chippenham, Wilts, says the adverse weather conditions have hit supplies. "Cattle want dry grass and sun on their backs. Its a gappy time of the season, anyway, in the break between the yarded and the grass-fed periods."

On the demand side, McDonalds and Burger Kings resumption of buying British beef has helped boost values.

A spokesperson for McDonalds says the company will return to sourcing half of its beef from Britain – as it did before the ban.

Meanwhile back at Chippenham, Mr Kingwill is confident such manufacturing buying will help demand for forequarters.

"It also has had a big psychological effect on the trade, as has farm minister Jack Cunninghams announcement that he plans to ban imports of beef which do not meet UK specifications."

Meat processors, anticipating tightening supplies and rising prices, may be more confident about buying, says Mr Kingwill. "But its not one-way traffic. A spell of hot weather could hit demand and see prices ease off."

Average prices were above the 100p/kg mark at Chippenham last Friday.

"That is the big psychological barrier. The extra confidence in the trade cheered the farmers up, it cheered the meat trade up – and it cheered the auctioneers up."

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