Ex-farm finished beef cattle values remain stubbornly below the £5 per deadweight kg, albeit with huge variations depending on the number and regularity of supplies, but with Irish production expected to fall 4% in the second part of 2024 following a 4.5% decline in 2023, there is hope for improvement.

Latest figures for the week ending May 4, show the All Scottish steer and heifer average fell 1.2p and 0.8p, to level at 492.3p and 492.9p, respectively. Steers and heifers hitting the R4L ‘spec cashed in at 495.7p and 498.0p.

However, with prices known to vary as much as 20-25p per kg depending on the breed, spec and how loyal a customer is at providing cattle on a weekly basis, there are huge discrepancies.

Interestingly, a telephone call to one well known abattoir for this week, quoted prices down 3p per dwkg at 482p for R4L steers and heifers and 477p for young bulls.

Prices appear to be higher south of the Border too, with the average for R4L steers and heifers in the North of England coming in at 499.3p and 499.1p respectively – almost 7p per dwkg more than those in Scotland for the same week.

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Reduced supplies across the Irish Sea have softened the difference in price between Irish and Scottish beef to less than 50p per kg, which should bolster future values.

According to this week’s Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) report, steers and heifers in the Republic of Ireland were averaging 449.4p and 452.2p, respectively. Meanwhile, the same cattle in the north of the country averaged 483.6p and 484.4p, for the same week of May.

Irish beef imports are already down, with the UK taking in 16,000 tonnes in February, which is a fall of 2200 tonnes from January. Total beef imports (fresh and frozen) also fell from January to February by 18% or 4200t to 19,700t.

UK exports of total beef sat at just over 9000 tonnes in February, a rise of just 130t from January.

Compared to last year, exports to Ireland have fallen by 500 tonnes, while shipments to Hong Kong rose 275t on the month and 280t on the year, at 650t in February.

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Looking at the sheep trade, imports from the Southern Hemisphere increased on the month in February, with a near 840t rise from New Zealand, and 600t uplift from Australia compared to January. Compared to February 2023, volumes from New Zealand have increased by 1150t and 640t for Australia.

Frozen sheep legs remain the largest imported product, with growth of nearly 1000t from January to February, at 2250 tonnes. This would indicate that orders were being filled in anticipation of Easter demand for lamb legs in March.

The largest supplier of frozen sheep legs into the UK in February was New Zealand, at 1720t, which is up 700t from January.

Meanwhile exports of UK sheep meat (fresh and frozen) totalled 6420 tonnes in February – down 380t from January, but up 110t from February 2023.

Lamb carcases remain the largest product exported from the UK, at 78% of the total in February – down 590t from January but up 145t from 2023.

According to AHDB, the EU-27 remains the most important market for exports, totalling 6000t in February, with France taking 52% of total UK sheep meat exports.

And, despite the historic highs seen in recent weeks for GB old season lambs which shifted differentials away from a discount to the French equivalents, values on the Rungis wholesale market have remained fairly steady, indicating continued demand.