With increased supplies of prime beef expected to be available both in the UK and across the Irish Sea over the next month, coupled with the continued uncertainty relating to trade as that Brexit deadline fast approaches, there appears little if any hope of a fat price rise in the coming weeks.

Reports of at least two weeks backlog at several of the main abattoirs could also point to further dips in the market which is already 10p per deadweight kg below last year’s levels and on a par with prices in 2017 at this time.

What is more worrying is the fact that farmers in Scotland appear to have lost that all important Scottish premium with deadweight values for the top grades marginally below those in North of England.

Latest figures from AHDB point to R4L steers in Scotland valued at 358.1p per kg – more than 5p below those in the north of England at 363.3p per deadweight kg, while Scottish R3 heifers are trading almost a penny less at 354.5p.

However, according to Stuart Ashworth, head of economics at Quality Meat Scotland, the Scottish premium usually slips at this time of year.

“It’s not unusual for the premium to narrow or go negative for a couple of weeks at this time. What you have got to remember is the abattoirs based in the regions quoted and the North of England has at least two big slaughterhouses killing Aberdeen Angus and native beef breeds which sell at a premium. It’s all about the supply of quality cattle, proportions and balance,” said Mr Ashworth.

“Quality and provenance will always attract a premium in the market place, it just depends on the balance of quality and dairy-bred animals available.”

What is of more concern to producers is the continued downturn in the fat trade which Mr Ashworth said is a result of Brexit and the uncertainty relating to future trade which looks set to continue at the very least until the end of the month and possibly until nearer the end of 2020.

“We’re now getting in to real critical territory. There is demand for beef and lamb in Europe but the guys shipping chilled product into Europe cannot give a price as to how much it will cost when no-one knows what the trading arrangements will be.

“We don’t know if it will be business as usual for beef coming in from Ireland tariff free either – it all depends on what sort of deal if any, is negotiated.”

“It’s not that we will be prevented from exporting to Europe, it’s what the tariffs will be if any, once ‘a deal’ has been agreed.

“We could finish up in not a bad place if we get a deal and a negotiated Brexit without tariffs, but trade arrangements for everything still have to be decided upon after the initial deal has been signed.”

As a result, he said the market is likely to remain challenging until such trade deals are agreed.

Mr Ashworth also pointed out that the continued uncertainty could be one of the reasons why there had been an increased number of prime cattle forward and why prices have slipped pretty much since the turn of the year.

Add to that the increased kill in Ireland and the extra supplies that have come on the market since the beginning of the year and further pressure has been put on prices both in Ireland and Great Britain.

As it is, figures from Bord Bia indicate slaughterings have increased in Ireland, by 13,700 head (+6%) in the year to February 23, which are perhaps less than has been suggested.

Meanwhile, GB cumulative estimated slaughterings for the year-to-date stand at 5500 head up on year earlier levels.

Needless to say, prices are down across the board with values for the week ending February 23, showing Eire with the lowest price of 321.6p per deadweight kg for an R3 steer which is 24.1p behind that of the same grade animal in Northern Ireland at 345.7p.

That week, R3 steers in Scotland averaged 357.3p/dwkg with those in the north of England at 355.1p and those in England and Wales at 351p. Prices have come down since then too.

Latest figures from AHDB for the week ending March 2, point to the steer trade in Scotland cashing in at 352.6p/dwkg, with heifers at 355.7p.

Steers and heifers hitting the R4L ‘spec levelled at 358.1p and 358.6p, respectively, which compares to those south of the Border at 355.4p and 352.0p. R3 steers for the same week in Scotland cashed in at 355.4p, compared to those in England and Wales at 349.7p.

On a more positive note, store cattle values are holding up well which coupled with spring fast approaching and forage supplies holding out well, is giving producers some hope.

“We’re getting closer to spring and the weather is holding up not too bad which is taking the pressure off the need to buy extra feeding,” said John Angus, head of livestock at Aberdeen and Northern Marts, adding that forage values have also slipped as a result.

“The right types of yearlings are still commanding a good price in the market despite the problems in the meat trade. Short keep stores have taken a bit of a hit but there is a good demand for grazing cattle and longer keep cattle. Quality still sells well," he added.