Unprecedented supply trend surprises sellers

Beef prices quoted at factories remained stable this week, with higher than expected supplies — somewhat unprecedented for a weekly December intake to reach such a peak, and a major surprise for farmers who had targeted the pre-Christmas period to deliver better prices due to anticipated scarcity of cattle.

Last week’s intake at factories topped 33,230 head. This eased pressure on processors, in a buyers’ market. The supply exceeded the same week in 2011 by about 1,900 head, in sharp contrast to the pattern year-to-date of weekly supply trailing last year.

Quoted steer prices for this week remain at a base of 395-400c/kg (141p-143p/lb). Some farmers are reporting up to 405c/kg being paid, but a considerable percentage of the cattle in the south continue to be sold for 395-397c/kg with processors resisting pressure to pay more, and being assisted by the supply pattern.

Heifers are generally making 15c/kg more than steers, with up to 420c/kg being achieved in the midlands and further north.

Average prices paid last week were slightly stronger for both steers and heifers, the latter having the edge, but considerably less than farmers may have budgeted for when planning their production earlier in 2012.

Cow prices at factories have remained stable in general. Base prices being quoted for O/P grades are ranging from 310 to 330c/kg in general, while quality R-grade cows are making up to 360c/kg.

Although prices have come back slightly in the UK over the past week, the wide margin between Irish and UK cattle prices continues to be a source of much anger among Irish farmers, and a serious concern for those planning to increase output along the lines of the Food Harvest 2020 plan.

In the UK, R4L grade steers are averaging equivalent to 475c/kg (170p/lb).

On the Continent, there has been little change to report, with trade across most of the key markets remaining relatively steady, and prices reflecting this pattern.

The trade is being helped by increased activity in the run up to Christmas.


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