Stock off grass push down cattle prices

By Simon Wragg

CONCERN over a shortfall in prime cattle looks out of touch this week as more stock comes off grass, hitting markets and pushing prices down further.

Values are following a seasonal decline but heavy retail promotions are helping shift supplies, albeit at a price.

MAFF slaughter figures show that the change in supplies in late August and early September is set to continue.

The combined total for steers, heifers and bulls had been relatively stable at 43,000/week until 9 September; that could rise to 47,000 head.

Retail markets are also managing a seasonal switch as consumers move back to traditional joints after a summer of easy-cook barbecue meat dishes, say traders.

Buyers claim that this has prompted the big supermarkets to agree significant promotions with suppliers to “get interest back into joints”.

Among the best buys has been Tescos half-price promotions which are now in their third week. Sales for different categories are said to be up five to 10 times.

Although higher throughputs at abattoir and store level will help compensate for the loss of what were already tight margins, the current easing of prime values will also have helped, say traders.

According to Meat & Livestock Commission calculations, deadweight prices have mirrored the slip seen in live markets, with 1p/kg wiped off plant averages last week.

For the week ended 16 September, steers sat at 172.3p/kg deadweight, heifers 167.2p/kg and young bulls 165.6p/kg.

Lower fat prices will squeeze finishers profits, particularly those who bought stores in spring.

“There is little doubt about it,” says Chippenham-based auctioneer Trevor Rowland.

The national picture suggests that store values are slightly back on last month in England and Wales, although little change has been noted in Scottish marts.

Overall, year-on-year figures highlight that bids are now stronger by about 2% nationally across all breeds and sexes, despite prime values being lower.

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