Wednesday, 24 March 2021
By Bethan Wilkins
In the week ended 20 March, the deadweight cattle trade jumped up again. The GB all prime average is now 388.2p/kg, over 7p higher than last week, 17p up on the start of 2021, and nearly 50p higher than the five year average for this time of year. Like many things, prime cattle prices have been unusual so far this year. It is more typical for prime prices to ease a little at the start of the year, reflecting poorer demand for these types of animals. This has not been the case in 2021.
Cattle numbers appear to be below the level needed to fulfil demand. Estimates suggest that the number of prime cattle coming forward was just ahead of the week earlier, at 32,300 head, though this was 11% below a year earlier. The market is also still feeling the effect of strong retail demand. Primary beef recorded 19% annual volume growth in the 12 weeks ending 21 February. Mince contributed the most to volume growth, but steaks were in second place as the fastest growing cut. Even with the tight cattle supplies, without this level of support at retail level, it may well have been difficult to achieve such strong cattle prices.
Average prices for different types of prime cattle moved as follows:
- Overall steers: +7.0p to 389.2p/kg
- Overall heifers: +8.0p to 388.5p/kg
- R4L steers: +6.7p to 397.2p/kg
- R4L heifers: +6.9p to 397.1p/kg
Heifers drove the slight rise in throughput compared to the previous week (+300 head).
Demand for cows also remained strong. At 285.3p/kg, those meeting the –O4L specification were up nearly 6p on a week earlier. Estimated slaughter stood at 9,200 head, similar to the week before but 13% lower than 2020 levels. The cow trade is also receiving a boost on the back of tight prime cattle supplies. The increase this week was the largest since early January, perhaps influenced by the planned reopening of some hospitality in April, which could boost demand for manufacturing beef. It remains to be seen exactly how changes to lockdown measures will influence beef demand in the coming weeks.
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