After a marginal improvement in values across the board, beef prices are back at where they started – at a five-year low – with the GB R4L steer average down by just over a penny at 338.8p per deadweight kg.

This compares to the previous week, when the GB all prime average increased by 0.7p on the week to 326.1p/kg, with R4L steers and heifers rising 2.2p and 1.5p per deadweight kg to 339.2p and 338.8p, respectively.

Figures for the week ending August 31, point to the steer average in Scotland rising 0.7p to 349.7p, while heifers fell 1.5p to 344.3p. A mixed trade for young bulls and cows saw the former rise 0.7p to 323.8p, with the latter remaining unchanged at 246.7p per deadweight kg.

And while the industry is still awaiting the expected shortage for the second half of 2019, industry reports point to abattoirs having fullfilled kill numbers with ease, as the supply of cattle remains buoyant. Estimated slaughter for the week totalled 30,000head, which although is slightly down on the previous week, remains some 7.6% higher than in the same week last year.

BCMS cattle population data from July, indicates that in the short term, the supply of beef cattle is similar to 2018. However, cattle numbers which would affect longer term beef supplies have recorded significant declines and are likely to impact beef market towards the end of this year and into the start of next, according to AHDB.

The number of dairy bulls under 12 months has recorded the largest decline, due to the uptake of sexed semen in the last couple of years beginning feed through the system. However, it would be expected that by way of replacement, there would be either an increase in either dairy females or beef calves. Neither has occurred. In fact the number of both types of calves on the ground has also declined in July 2019 compared to a year earlier. The current reduction in both breeding herds is probably outpacing any increase in beef calves from the dairy herd.

Looking forward, AHDB still expects beef production to tighten a little through the back end of the year, as the beef herd – beef females more than 36months of age – remains in decline, with 21,000 fewer head on the ground compared to this time last year, and 24,000 fewer compared to 2017.

Similarly the dairy herd – females older than 24 months – which is now supplying more than 45% of the beef calves in the UK, has fallen by some 48,000 head, with younger dairy cattle (24-42 months) in particular making up a large share of this decline.

This is expected to keep production tighter for a longer period, potentially offering some support to the market over the next year or so. Nevertheless, if poor retail demand continues to be an issue after the farm gate, this could negate any tightening of supply.

While beef prices remain stagnant in Scotland, in Eire, where protests by farmers are continuing at beef processing facilities, the Irish Farmers Association has called for an investigation by government, to examine margins in the supply chain.

Such have been the protests in recent weeks that some abattoir owners have been granted a temporary injunction to restrain protestors blockading their meat plants when they are expecting a delegation of Chinese visitors to carry out processing and hygiene inspections to enable increased exports to China.

The Republic of Ireland has the lowest beef price compared to anywhere in the UK, with prices for the week ending August 8, showing R3 steers at 316.2p per deadweight kg, compared to 330.9p in Northern Ireland; 345.9p in Scotland; 336.5p in the North of England; 327.8p in Midlands and Wales and 326.9p in the South of England.

Heifers of the same grade averaged 323.8p in Eire; 330.6p in Northern Ireland; 344.2p in Scotland; 336.8p in the North of England; 331.5p in Midlands and Wales and 328.2p in the South of England.