Autumn beef price cuts in the first week of June

As beef prices at factories continued to come under pressure this week, the pace of the downturn coming so early in the year took finishers by surprise.

While some weakening in prices on offer is not unusual from mid-July, as the trade begins to shape up for the strong autumn intake, it is rare to see returns sliding so sharply at the end of May or in early June.

A couple of weeks ago, early grass finishers were looking at the real prospect of a general price base of 400 cents/kg for steers, and 410-415 cents/kg for heifers.

Instead, they are being offered a 385 cents/kg base for steers, and 395 cents/kg for heifers, even as processors put suppliers on a waiting list to get cattle killed, due to a surge in supply.

The intake had dipped below 30,000 head at factories, generating optimism among finishers that the worst of the low prices might be over, after their loss-making spring.

However, the surge in supply over the past three weeks has changed the situation, and relieved any pressure on processors to pay more in order to get sufficient cattle to meet their market requirements.

The period between the last of the yard cattle and the first of the grass-finished cattle usually offers an opportunity for early grass finishers.

The strong spring grass growth this year was very welcome, and was inevitably going to bring forward the grass cattle, but the scale of the increase in supply, and the corresponding drop in prices, have been surprising.

The total beef intake last week increased further, to around 34,850 head, which is very strong for the last week of May.

It is very difficult to get any base quote for steers above 385 cents/kg this week, and several finishers report factories putting them on a waiting list, which has further weakened their hand at negotiating for better prices.

The situation is similar for heifers, on a base of 395 cents/kg, and bargaining with processors to pay more a very difficult process.

The market pattern has been similar in general for young bulls and cows.

Prices on offer have fallen for both categories.

Young bull prices are generally at 370 cents/kg for Rs this week, while prices for plainer quality O-grade young bulls have slipped to 330 cents/kg.

P-grade cow prices are back to 280-285 cents/kg, with Os making 310-315 cents/kg, and up to 330 cents/kg going for the better quality R-grade cows.

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