Increased demand for beef on the run up to the festive season coupled with a reduction in the backlog of supplies, have at long last helped turnaround the pricing pendulum such that farmgate values are now showing small but welcome signs of recovery.

While there is no doubting the superior quality of cattle forward at many of the Christmas shows and sales at livestock auction marts boost the live trade, such has been the demand that deadweight prices are also significantly up compared to previous half hearted attempts.

And with supplies dwindling across the Irish Sea, some of the processors have been forced to up their game by as much as 5p per deadweight kg to ensure an adequate kill, with the result being the average GB steer, heifer, young bull and even cast cow values all rose 1.2p-1.8p over the past week.

As a result, latest figures in Scotland for the week ending November 30, show R4L steer and heifer prices at 348.0p and 349.0p per kg respectively, with the overall average increasing 0.7p and 1.2p, to 345.1p and 344.5p.

South of the Border, steers and heifers of the same grade worked out at 338.0p and 335.3p, with the overall average cashing in at 322.3p and 321.0p, up 1.4p and 2.0p per dwkg on the week.

However, while farmgate beef prices in Scotland have increased by 2% over the past month, they remain some 8% or 30p per dwkg lower than this time last year on the back of weekly prime cattle slaughter numbers that have exceeded last year’s levels over the past quarter.

Supplies are nevertheless beginning to tighten, according to Stuart Ashworth, director of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland.

“Calf registration data and census returns would suggest that prime stock supplies will tighten in the medium-term,” he said.

“June census returns report a decline in male cattle one to two years old of around 2% across GB and a decline in male cattle under a year old of around 3%.”

Beef supplies are, however, being supported by increases in carcase weights, particularly among steers.

Although average carcase weights in October were 1% higher than a year ago, they did remain lower than two years ago. Nevertheless, increasing numbers of cattle will be falling outside of many buyers preferred upper weight limits.

According to Mr Ashworth, while Scottish prime cattle prices are showing some modest increase, in other parts of the world prices have climbed steeply in the past quarter.

“What all these countries have in common is access to the Chinese and Asian market where demand for all meat has escalated as a consequence of impact of African Swine Fever on their domestic meat supplies,” said Mr Ashworth.

“Brazil, for example, had processors approved for supplying China in October and since then they have seen a significant increase in demand from that market and producer prices have jumped more than 25%.

“Argentina has seen more modest, but still significant, price increases of 11% in the past quarter. Similarly, Australia, who have good connections to China, have seen prices climb 7% since mid-year.”

And despite continuing trade complications with China, the USA has also seen strengthening cattle prices. Having trailed last year’s levels for the first three quarters of 2019, a climb of around 15% since September has seen current US cattle prices move ahead of last year’s levels in recent weeks.

In contrast, however, the European Union which has more limited access to China, and some of the highest farmgate prices in the World, has not seen much movement in prices. On average across the EU, the steer price has lifted around 1% over the past month but some countries including Ireland and France have seen prices fall.

“Movements in global farmgate prices highlight the importance of market access to benefit from regional variations in demand, securing the best returns from the market place,” added Mr Ashworth