GB prime beef values may be on the wane, but they remain 10% higher than last year and 18% above the five-year average. However, adjusted for inflation, prices are only around 1% above those of 2021 and some 11% below their July 2013 peak, according to the latest market commentary from Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Beef prices on the continent have also seen significant changes, with German values falling back to 416p per kg for R3 young bulls, while Polish prices are down at 390p/kg. In contrast, young bull values remained high at almost 450p/kg in the Netherlands, early July.

In the Irish Republic, which has retained unfettered access to the continental market, R3 steer prices have gone from trading at 17% below Scottish R4L steers in autumn 2021 to overtake them for a month late-May 2022. However, as Irish supplies have increased they are now 6% below Scottish R4L steers at 432p/kg.

A changing climate is also having severe implications on some major beef producing nations, according to Iain Macdonald, senior economics analyst at QMS.

"In Australia, beef production has been affected by severe drought, which initially led to herd liquidation, followed by unprecedented levels of rain, which have resulted in a drive to re-stock."

In 2021, Australia’s beef production had fallen by nearly a quarter compared to 2019 and while a rebound is expected, the USDA is expecting it to fall around 15% short of the 2019 high, having recently lowered their 2022 forecast by 3%.

“This reduction in supply pushed Australian cattle prices up significantly. While off the highs seen earlier this year, processor cattle in the Eastern States still averaged 516p/kg mid July, placing them 13% above the latest Scottish R4L steer price.”

In the US and Canada, severe droughts over the past year have led to the highest levels of cow herd liquidation in three decades in the US during the opening quarter of 2022, with the cow kill holding well above historic averages in the second quarter.

Nevertheless, beef demand remains firm in the US, where a large part of consumption is in the more recession-proof mince and burgers, hence farmgate steer prices early July were 427p/kg.

In South America, high inflation over a prolonged period led the government of Argentina to introduce export controls mid 2021. Over the past year, this supported domestic food security while squeezing the ability of the country’s beef processors to build on recent successes in the Chinese market.

Brazil’s beef sector also faced significant challenges last autumn, being locked out of some major markets after the detection of two atypical BSE infections in cows. Cattle prices in Brazil and Argentina are however competitive on the global market, with steer values of 322p-339p/kg mid July – 25-30% cheaper than those in Scotland.