Price upturn in beef but still no cheer

By Tim Relf

A SLIGHT upturn in cattle prices this week brought only a little cheer to beef farmers.

Steer values at markets in England and Wales on Monday rose 2.7p to 87.6p/kg, with 10% animals sold.

But for Yorkshire farmer Nick Baker, deadweight bull prices sunk to an all-time low of about 170p/kg.

The growth rate of stock at Mr Bakers Bainton Heights farm is 1.8kg/day in the finishing period. Taken to about 650kg lw, they are typically Grade U. But low prices for over-thirty-month-scheme cattle are eating into profits by limited payments for cull suckler cows.

“We are getting the performance – but not the price,” Mr Baker said. “Were virtually giving them away. In the past, we always got more for the culls than we had to pay for a bulling heifer. Now, theyre making nearly £200 less.”

Dire prices have led farmers to abandon beef production, Mr Baker added. “There will be a shortage of UK-produced beef. But whether this helps the market depends on what happens with imports.”

Ewan Brewis, who farms near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, said a lifting of the export ban would do little to help values. “It will be a confidence-boosting factor, rather than prompting any big rise in demand.”

Mr Brewis has also seen beef prices sink to an all-time low. The batch of Aberdeen Angus bullocks he sold deadweight last week made 212p/kg.

Recent liveweight offerings, meanwhile, have been variable – although he has topped sales at Edinburgh mart with prices of 135p/kg and 139p/kg. Bad weather has meant fewer tourists which, in turn, has meant less beef has been eaten, he said.

“If the sun would shine and we could get a weaker Pound, things would look up,” said Mr Brewis. “The stock needs the sun.”

Meanwhile any tightening of beef supplies is unlikely to prop up the trade and farmers are now trying to control costs more tightly.

“A lot of farmers are talking about keeping home-grown barley for beef,” said Mr Brewis. “But for cashflow reasons, it might be better to get cereals sold soon after harvest, get the money in the bank and then buy feed as and when its needed.”

At Ludlow, Shropshire, auctioneer John Uffold attributed the 4p/kg rise in prices to fewer cattle on offer. Bullocks and heifers averaged 93p and 90p/kg liveweight respectively.

“Export would give us an option and would break the control of the home market by one or two big retailers,” Mr Ufford said.

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