Beef prices steady amid Scottish political upheaval
The beef trade has been steady in the build-up to Easter, despite Nicola Sturgeon's call for second referendum on Scottish independence.
Prices are quoted at £3.66/kg for R or better grading heifers under 400kg carcase weight at fat class 3L or 4. Similar steers are getting around £3.61/kg.
Bull prices are around 10p/kg behind steers. On average, the trade this year is 20p/kg above last spring, with kill numbers only 1.8% back.
It is hoped that prices will not tumble towards May to the same extent as 2016.
The Scottish beef premium is being squeezed, with the north of England seeing stronger average prices. Much of this is being put down to the large kill of Aberdeen Angus premium cattle at Dovecot Park raising the average quoted price. But comparing like with like, the trade is similar north and south of the border.
At the market peak in 2016 there was over a 20p difference in average heifer prices in Scotland and England.
Bulls out of fashion
In 2016 many processers urged farmers to cut their bulls, based on the premise that retailers only wanted steers and heifers. Anecdotally many farmers followed this advice, leading to more Scottish steers currently in the market. While the 2016 bull crop will not come forward in numbers until May-June, we can already see the bull kill has fallen 12%.
This could also be down to falling dairy calf registrations, however.
Processors are saying there are more cattle within specification compared with previous years. This is backed up by the average steer weight in January being 4kg lower than in 2016.
Average heifer and bull weights have also fallen slightly year on year. This coincides with anecdotal evidence on farms of producers making a greater effort to get cattle away lighter.
Total beef volume production in Scotland might be down 2% year on year, but this will be balanced by a slight rise in production in England and Wales.
The cow trade remains strong, with the R grade cows over 300kg getting between £2.70 to £2.80/kg. Cow beef is being more strongly influenced by the weak pound, with strong Irish demand driving prices.
The store trade seems to be very buoyant, with some sales up £100 per head on average compared with last year.
However, finishers might be left in a tight spot, with many purchasing cattle at £2.40/kg liveweight and selling at the equivalent of £2.05/kg liveweight.
They will be hoping for another rising trade in the build-up to Christmas to have any prospect of delivering a margin.