Heifers the brightest light in trade

WHILE there are some variations in the market for beef cattle this week, price improvement is limited to individual deals for quality lots, comprising mostly of heifers.

The level of supply to beef plants, which continues high relative to market demand, is undermining any prospect of a decent increase in prices for the Christmas trade.

Time is now running out for a pre-Christmas price lift, with most of the cattle required to fill Christmas orders expected to be in the factory lairages within the next week.

Hopes now switch to the post-Christmas market. While re-stocking of supermarket shelves immediately after the Christmas holidays is always relied upon to give a boost to demand, the generally weaker economic climate is likely to affect consumer demand during the early weeks of 2010.

Once again, the Christmas trade has delivered very disappointing returns to those who had targeted the seasonal market.

Last week’s kill has been estimated at about 36,000 head, of which steers accounted for about 14,000 head, having fallen back from the level of previous weeks.

Week-on-week factory supplies are running well above the corresponding weeks in 2008 — by up to 9,000 head per week — taking the pressure to increase cattle prices off processors.

While processors in the southern counties continued to quote 280 to 266 cents/kg (100p to 95p/lb) for R and O grade steers for this week, cattle sellers were getting an extra 3 to 6 cents/kg (1p or 2p/lb) for quality stock in the east and around some of the plants in the midlands.

Processors in the north west as usual paid the highest cattle prices, but demanded they meet strict type and weight criteria.

Heifers continue to be the brightest light in the trade. They were generally worth 6 to 8 cents/kg (2p or 3p/lb) more than the steers, and some processors were willing this week to go above that to get the right type of quality heifer, putting farmers with such animals in a strong position to negotiate a price premium.

The beef trade in Britain has been stable over the past week, with supplies matching demand levels. The forequarter trade continued to perform well, although trade for topsides, silversides and knuckles eased on the previous week’s levels. Trade for steaks remained steady. Prices averaged the equivalent of 330 cent/kg (118p/lb) including VAT.

On the Continent, consumption is reported to be holding steady across a number of key markets.

Volumes are expected to pick up over the coming weeks as Christmas approaches. The best trade is reported for chuck, forequarter and shoulder joints.


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