Confidence returns to store trade

By Simon Wragg

BUOYANT trade in finished cattle is helping ensure brisk business at suckled calf and store sales.

Haigh Murray of Longtown market, Cumbria, says many store finishers bought well last year in what was a cautious trade, took the benefit of a better-than-expected price in the fat ring this autumn and are back at the store market with confidence.

“Were already seeing store prices on the increase on the early sales with values up around £50 a head.”

Those selling finished cattle are still enjoying a relatively strong trade compared with lamb and pig producers with the average MLC weekly beef price at 88.3p/kg. The better quality steers are trading for premiums of over 15p/kg, report auctioneers.

Indications are for a firm trade in finished cattle through to the end of the year. Supplies are running tighter and some abattoirs are reappearing at major markets.

David Lock of Cooper & Tanner says those buyers dedicated to FABBL cattle are seeing non-assured stock as a missed opportunity. “It makes one buyer grind his teeth.”

And buyers are back in the store sections earlier than expected in some areas.

A kinder harvest has certainly helped, says Chris Murphy of Elgin market, Morayshire. And with a fall in cereal prices and good supplies of straw, there is every reason to be confident that demand will be sustained, he says.

Alan Taylor of Aberdeen & Northern Marts says trade is strongest for those stores fit to finish before the year end. Last weeks entry at Thainstone saw steers average 111.8p/kg and heifers 91.6p/kg. “Its an increase of 5p/kg over the last month alone.”

Skipton-based Paddy Wrightson says store prices are up by as much as £80 a head on last year, but there are still good value cattle to be had, especially heifers.

But many auctioneers say the quality of stores has diminished with the decline in traditional breeding in the suckler herd. “That has to be addressed,” adds Mr Lock.

Steers on green or blue tickets indicating a beef special premium claim is available are taking the trade. Of the losers, yearlings coming off grass are trading at a discount, but there is a widely held view that the supply of quality cattle is likely to be back on last year and that could see a recovery in yearlings in the next month.

But will the rise in store and suckled calf markets – of which many northern markets have been enjoying – leave a margin for this years finisher? “Thats a $64,000 question,” says Mr Wrightson. “I hope so.”

ADASs John Outhwaite believes producers will see a return if the current market for finished stock runs through into the spring. “Any weakening in the price and those who bought stores at the finished price will be in trouble unless theres a subsidy claim in there.”

Also there is scant regard for the benefit of the slaughter premium introduced in January. Although it could put an extra £18/beast into store buyers pockets, it will equate to around 3p/kg on a finished beast.

“Not much point in putting that into the equation or holding cattle into the new year to claim it. A shift in beef prices could soon swallow up any benefit,” adds Mr Outhwaite.

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