Price upturn in beef but still no cheer

12 June 1998

Price upturn in beef but still no cheer

By Tim Relf

MONDAYS slight upturn in cattle prices brought little cheer to beef farmers.

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

But for Yorkshire farmer Nick Baker, deadweight bull prices have 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 typically grade U. "We are getting the performance – but not the price."

Also hitting the bottom line is the over-thirty-month-scheme, limiting payments for cull suckler cows. "Were virtually giving them away," says Mr Baker.

"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, says Mr Baker. "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, reckons 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.

"It depends whether the butchers have had a good week or not." But bad weather has meant there have been fewer tourists which, in turn, has meant less beef has been eaten, he says.

"If the sun would shine and we could get a weaker pound things would look up," says Mr Brewis. "The stock needs the sun."

Meanwhile hes not relying on any tightening of beef supplies to prop up the trade. "People have been talking about the impending shortage of beef for two years – and it hasnt materialised."

Vital now to margins will be tight cost control. "A lot of farmers are talking about keeping home-grown barley for beef," says 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, Shrops, auctioneer John Uffold attributes the 4p/kg rise in prices on Monday to the lower numbers on offer. Bullocks and heifers averaged 93p and 90p/kg lw respectively.

"Export would give us an option and would break the control of the home market by one or two big retailers." &#42

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