QMS have reported a modest lift in prime cattle prices over the past week. However, while one week does not create a trend, history would suggest that cattle prices do climb at this time of year, said Stuart Ashworth, QMS Director of Economics Services.

“The first indication of some strengthening in farmgate price has occurred some three weeks ahead of Easter. This may indicate some confidence in consumer demand for the Easter weekend, although other factors may, however, be starting to have an impact,” he said.

“In the past couple of weeks, we have seen the balance in the market changing slowly. Throughputs at price-reporting abattoirs during March suggests that prime stock supplies are beginning to tighten as, although higher than a year ago, the degree of increase is much less than it was during February.”

He added: “As we move through April BCMS data suggests that prime cattle supplies are likely to continue to tighten slowly. Across Europe as a whole, the European Commission forecasts beef production to fall by just over 1% during 2019.”

Looking at the market earlier in the year, UK abattoirs handled 3% more prime cattle in February compared with a year earlier. Furthermore, these cattle produced carcases that were typically 4kg, nearly 1%, heavier - significantly increasing the volume of beef on the market. Both numbers and carcase weights increased in January but the increases in February have been much higher.

“Growth in slaughter numbers has, however, been almost entirely due to increased prime heifer slaughterings. Cow slaughterings are down slightly through January and February but the high level of cow slaughterings during 2018 followed by high levels of prime heifer slaughterings is not a positive indicator for future breeding herd size,” observed Mr Ashworth.