Beef prices are now at a five-year low for this time of year, with the latest fall in values coupled with the reduction in carcase weights demanded by some abattoirs proving a real challenge for producers.

Latest figures show that while there was a slight increase in deadweight values for steers sold in Scotland at 341.0p, Scottish heifer prices still slipped another 1.6p to level at 342.9p, while those south of the Border fell by almost a penny to 325.0p.

Young bull and cow prices also headed south with the Scottish average working out at 324.1p (-1.9p) and 251.2 (-5.9p) respectively, while those in England and Wales dipped by 1.2p and 1.1p to 309.8p and 228.9p per deadweight kg, respectively based on the figures for the week ending July 20.

The picture is no better on the continent either where most countries have witnessed a reduction in values due to good supplies and weaker consumer demand with increased competition from other proteins. Prices in GB and Northern Ireland are down more than most too due to the fall in the value of sterling. (See table).

Add to that reports of beef farmers reducing cow numbers and some finishers abandoning plans to buy in store cattle with the continued fall in the beef price, and it comes as no surprise that all producers are struggling to make ends meet, according to Stuart Ashworth, director of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland.

"It is unusual to see ex-farm beef prices fall as much as they have at this time of year which added to the increase in feed, fertiliser and forage costs means even the top 25% of producers are struggling to make ends meet," he said.

He added that reduced consumer confidence as a result of the continued uncertainty relating to Brexit and a lack of understanding is affecting beef sales in the UK and further afield.

"Unemployment is at it's lowest level for a number of years, but so many people are concerned about what their wage will be and whether they will have a job to go to after Brexit, which means every pound is a prisoner.

"Consumers also perceive all red meat as being bad for their health and climate change when in effect most scientists point out that it is processed meat that causes the issues, while the grass-based livestock systems of those in Scotland are far closer to hitting carbon neutral demands compared to other forms of production further afield."

Mr Ashworth also highlighted the slight increase in carcase weights over the past six months as another reason as to why demand for beef has been suppressed.

"The two things that affect supplies are the number of cattle in the chain and the weight of those animals. Processors always say the optimum carcase weight is 380kg dead so any significant increase in carcase weight will increase supplies."

It was a point highlighted by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) too.

"This year’s reduction in consumer demand is adding to waiting lists at abattoirs at present, which has an inevitable impact on carcase weights," said Martin Morgan, executive manager of SAMW.

"Members are working with producers to minimise this factor. What would really help, however, would be a rise in demand at the retail point, which ultimately drives the whole chain.

"Out of spec. livestock, of course, inevitably results in higher disposal costs which processors have to absorb within their own margins. Enabling producers to remain on spec. and sensitive to retailer requirements has shaped the procurement process over many years.Despite the demand pressures which have influenced the market so far this year, we do not envisage any change in these time-honoured practices and relationships," added Mr Morgan.

Deadweight cattle prices – Heifers R3 equivalent (€ cents)

Country Price this month Price last month Change on month

(w/e 7/7/19) (w/e 9/6/19) (cents)

Sweden 403.6 400.0 +3.6

Luxembourg 402.7 405.1 -2.5

Italy 401.8 399.0 +2.8

France 393.0 394.0 -1.0

Ireland 377.1 397.6 -20.5

Great Britain 373.8 392.8 -18.8

Northern Ireland 368.5 386.8 -18.3

Spain 361.8 382.2 -20.50

Austria 354.4 352.7 +1.7

Germany 350.7 352.2 -1.5

Denmark 340.2 342.4 -2.2

Slovenia 336.0 329.8 +6.2

Belgium 327.0 326.5 +0.5

Poland 306.3 319.3 -13.0

Lithuania 289.1 305.3 -16.2

Czech Republic 286.3 280.4 +5.9

EU average 369.0 377.8 -8.8

Euro (€1=) 89.7 88.6 +1.0