Stock shortage sees increase in cattle prices
By Tim Relf
CATTLE prices have risen, with finished stock in short supply in the seasonal gap between yarded and grass-fed beef.
"Up 10p/kg in three weeks," says auctioneer Michael Gamble at Norwich. The best are now topping 100p/kg and grossing more than £500. "Important psychological barriers," he says.
Inclement weather in June has also taken its toll on numbers marketed. "The cattle like all this grass, but they would also like more sun on their backs," says Mr Gamble.
Elsewhere, price increases have also been seen, with values now back up from the mid-May low of 84p/kg lw, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.
In the middle of June, prime beasts averaged nearly 92p/kg lw, just 3% lower than a year earlier.
Reduced imports, particularly from Ireland, have also contributed to the upturn, says the MLC. Trade data for March shows beef imports down a quarter on the same month in 1997.
The calf slaughter scheme – which since its introduction has accounted for 1.15m dairy-type calves and 101,000 beef sorts – is also impacting on numbers.
Meanwhile, its all about producing a quality product, says Oxfordshire farmer Robert Florey. A batch of Aberdeen Angus animals which he sold two weeks ago, grading R4L, made 201p/kg dw to Waitrose. "We get a good price for quality – but get marked down for the poorer ones," says Mr Florey. "Buyers do not want cattle too fat or with poor conformation."
There is little sign of further price improvement for the rest of the year, says the MLC, partly because the current shortage of Irish beef is expected to be only temporary.
As auctioneer Michael Parry at Gaerwen mart says: "We take it day by day." Do not over ripen cattle, is his advice to farmers. "Buyers want finished cattle – but not thick, fat ones."
Similarly some under-finished beasts are also arriving in markets, he says, as farmers rush to beat the 30-month age limit on cattle entering the food chain. *