Reduced supplies of finished beef in the UK and Ireland are at long last having a positive result on ex-farm prices, with values rising anything from 5-8p per deadweight kg this week and further increases expected in the coming weeks.

With no waiting lists at any of the abattoirs and some meat plants believed to have just two days kill ahead of them, processors are finally being forced to shell out some hard cash to source future supplies and the trend looks set to continue well into the summer.

While the latest deadweight figures in Scotland from AHDB – for the week ending May 9 – show steers and heifers down overall on the week at 337.1p and 340.0p respectively, those hitting the R4L spec, have improved marginally at 341.6p and 344.3p, which coupled with this week’s additional 5p means that at long last, values are approaching the 350p per kg deadweight mark.

Another sign of recovery comes from the young bull and cow sectors which have risen 3.5p and 7.3p per deadweight kg on the week in Scotland, to 324.0p and 243.7p.

“Beef prices are up on the week at most abattoirs by 5p per deadweight kg plus, purely because suckler-bred beef cattle numbers are not there to kill,” Neil Shand, interim chief executive of the National Beef Association, told The Scottish Farmer.

“A lot of farmers who would normally have reared young bulls, cut them last year, so they are not in the chain to kill at present.

“There has also been some brilliant weather for barbecues which combined with some retailers promoting steaks, has also helped to address carcase balance issues and therefore increase demand.”

Mr Shand also believes demand and prices will improve further as the trade is still to benefit from the joint promotional work conducted by the three levy boards.

Stuart Ashworth, head of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland, is confident prices will continue to strengthen when numbers are expected to remain tight for most of the year, going by the December census.

He pointed out that the number of male cattle aged between one and two years of age on the census was down 5% on the year, with heifers in the same age bracket down 1.7%, in Scotland.

Similarly aged cattle are also well down in England and Ireland with males falling 7% and 4%, respectively.

“Everything else being equal and we don’t see too much of a change in carcase weights, it is inevitable that we will see a tightening of supplies and a strengthening of prices but I don’t think we’ll see prices up at £4.00 per deadweight kg.

“There is a bit more positivity out there with McDonalds and other food outlets looking to open up as soon as possible, which are always extra buyers in the market place.”

Such has been the reduction in finished cattle numbers coming forward in Ireland, that prices have already improved, with R3 steers in the north rising 3.5p on the previous seven days to level at 325.9p, and heifers of the same grade up 3.6p to 326.6p.

Young bulls and O3 cows also improved by just over 3p and 7.3p to 318.4p and 241.3p, respectively for the week ending May 9.

Figures from Bord Bia, in Eire, also show cattle numbers are down 3%, with farmers seeing some positive price movements over the past week.

Meanwhile, claims that additional New Zealand lamb had been imported to sell through a well known supermarket chain, has prompted Marks and Spencers to get behind its claim that it is sourcing lamb only from its 4401 British Select Farms.

“Supporting our M and S Select Farms in Scotland and across the UK is important to us,” said an M and S spokesperson. “That’s why we committed in 2015 to only selling fresh Scottish Lamb in our Scottish stores, and last year, we announced that all our fresh lamb sold in in Northern Ireland, England and Wales would be British by June of this year.

“M and S managing director, Stuart Machin, recently confirmed to Andrew McCornick, president of NFU Scotland, that we are on track to meet that commitment, which has seen our average weekly lamb demand grow by 44% from 2789 lambs in 2019 to 4037 this year, all sourced from long standing Scottish supplier, Scotbeef.

“We are also committed to looking at opportunities to expand our lamb range, and to increase the amount of lamb used as an ingredient in our prepared meal products.”

All M and S beef is also sourced from 5100 British Select Farms and through the company’s Beef DNA programme. Such has been the increased demand for this beef that the company’s cattle kill has risen 5% on the same period last year since lockdown.