Prime beef cattle values have remained relatively stable over the past three months and the trend looks set to continue with supplies remaining tight both in Scotland and across the Irish Sea.

While the latest average deadweight prices in Scotland slipped slightly for the week ending October, 24, values south of the Border, firmed with the reduced numbers available for slaughter.

Add to that reduced numbers in both the north and south of Ireland, and prime beef values are expected to remain firm for the remainder of 2020 with the possibility of reduced values from the spring of 2021 onwards.

While R4L steers and heifers in Scotland are not far off hitting 390p per deadweight kg mark at 387.1p and 384.7p, respectively, overall averages for both slipped on the week. Steers levelled at 382.4p, down 2.2p per kg on the week with heifers falling 1.4p to 381.5p.

Young bulls fell 2.2p to average 359.6p while cows improved by 3.7p, to 262.4p.

In contrast values south of the Border were mostly up on the week, with steers cashing in 363.5p, down just 0.2p; heifers levelled at 362.8p, up 1.1p and young bulls and cows averaged 352p and 237.1p, representing a rise of 3.8p and 1.3p, respectively.

Across the water in Northern Ireland, base quotes for U-3 grading prime cattle held relatively steady at 354-360p/kg although there has been some firming in the quotes in individual plants within this quoted range.

Furthermore, reports from plants point to a firming of supplies coming forward to meet demand for beef.

Last week, there were 7120 prime cattle killed in NI beef processing plants which was similar to the previous week. However, while the abattoirs have reported firm supplies, the level of throughput is behind that of this time last year.

Prime cattle throughputs in NI during the six-week period ending October 18, totalled 41,915 – down almost 9% on the corresponding period in 2019.

There has also been an increase in the number of prime cattle being imported for direct slaughter from Eire over the past six weeks, which have helped to supplement throughput in local plants.

During the six weeks to October 18, some 2219 prime cattle were imported from Eire into Northern Ireland which accounted for 5.3% of total throughput. This compares to the same period last year when 1733 prime cattle were transported from the south to the north for direct slaughter, making up 3.8% of total throughputs in local abattoirs.

There has also been an increase in the number of cattle being imported for further production on local farms. During July-September 2020 there were 2716 weaned and store male cattle imported from Eire for further production – the highest recorded import during this quarter since 2013 – which compares to just 443 head in the same three-month period last year.

As a result, at the start of October 2020 there were 3671 male cattle on NI farms aged between 12-30 months with most of these intended for beef production. This is more than double the 1591 imported male cattle in this age range in October 2019.

Hence numbers available for slaughter are expected to remain fairly steady for the final quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, supplies are expected to pick up from April 2021.