While Scottish prime cattle prices held up well in the opening weeks of 2018, they have since slipped away, with increased supplies and reports of back-logs of up to a month at some meat plants.

Latest figures show that Scottish steers and heifers fell 3.4p and 2.1p per deadweight kg on the week, to level at 370.9p and 373.5p, for the seven days ending February 3. This compares to the prices south of the Border which reported steer and heifer values of 352.6p and 355.3p, for the same week, which incidentally, were only down 0.2p.

Young bulls also took a real knock this week, falling 9p in Scotland to 344.6p with those in the south, cashing in at 324.8p, down 2p.

Certainly, GB steer numbers were down 1.6%, but with total heifer, young bull and cull cow supplies up by 2.5%, 8.7% and 2.6%, respectively, there is a big surplus out there at a time of year when the majority of consumers are still looking to pay back their over indulgences from the festive period.

On a more positive note, cull cow values have increased by almost 5p in Scotland and 4p in England and Wales, to level at 266.9 and 244.2p per dwkg.

Prime cattle prices are nevertheless up slightly on the year and ended the month some 3% higher than this time last year with similar volumes reaching the market.

It's a similar story on the continent too, with recent reports from the European Union, showing the UK beef price in Euros to be 0.6% higher than last year, while Ireland is reporting an increase of 6%, France 3% and Germany 7%.

According to Stuart Ashworth, head of economics at Quality Meat Scotland, it's not unusual for prime stock prices to drift down in the first few weeks of the year reflecting the consumer switch to lower value cuts like mince and stewing products. Last year, however, he said it was not until mid-March that the drift downwards halted.

He also warned that with supermarkets continuing to drive the low-price, value-for-money message to consumers, it is difficult for processors to pass higher farmgate prices through to their retail customers.

Looking further ahead, steps have been made to progress lifting the BSE ban on British beef exports to China which could be worth £250m in the first five years.

In a three-day visit to Beijing, with prime minister, Theresa May, business leaders and industry representatives, AHDB's chief executive officer Jane King, said the visit had been hailed a great success.

The first day saw an agreement to progress lifting the BSE ban on British beef exports to China, as well as an agreement to allow exports of a broader range of dairy products.

In all, the trade mission achieved more than £9bn in potential export sales of UK products and services overall, marked a major milestone in unlocking the full potential of this important market.

"According to the Prime Minister, China and UK relations are entering a golden era in terms of trade and it is an exciting time for the country’s farming industry as we look at future export opportunities.

“Britain has a fantastic global reputation and is renowned for high standards of food quality and safety as well as animal welfare, which is of great importance to Chinese consumers. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to build on this positive trade visit to unlock the full potential for our producers here in the UK.”

Agreements are already in place to export pork from the UK to China and a further two processing plants have recently received approval to export pigs’ trotters.

The UK also has a licence to export malting barley used in brewing to China, as it has a significant quality advantage over other nations.