Questions are being asked about the solidity of the Scotch Beef premium given that for the past three consecutive months prime cattle sold in the north of England had been outselling those north of the Border – and the margin is widening.

In previous years, premiums of up to 20p per deadweight kg for R4L carcases were available to Scottish beef producers, depending on supply and demand and the time of year.

However, in more recent time, this had been significantly eroded to just 2-3p per kg. but in recent weeks North of England prices have nudged above those paid in Scotland. Furthermore, Scottish prices had never been 10p per dwkg lower than those south of the Border.

The Scotch Beef label – first registered with the EU in the mid-1990s before attaining PGI status – and the premium price that went with it, had never been a favourite of the larger meat processors. However, not many would ever have thought that average prices in Scotland could be up to 10p per dwkg lower.

Looking back to the week ending October 2, North of England steers obtained a 2p per kg premium over those killed in Scotland, at 416.0p and 414.2p, respectively. A closer look at those hitting spec' revealed a 2.5p per kg difference in favour of those in the North of England receiving 422.1p against R4L steers in Scotland at 419.7p.

There was also little, if any premium, available for Scottish heifers, young bulls and cows cashed deadweight, compared to their counterparts in the North of England as well. The average price for R4L heifers in Scotland for the same week was 421.3p, against 420.1p, while young bulls and cows cashed in at 410.3p and 330.5p, compared to those in the North of England at 409.1p and 328.8p, respectively.

Three months on and cattle finished in the North of England have continued to attract higher prices, with increasing numbers of Scottish beef producers heading to live markets south of the Border where commission rates are significantly lower.

Latest figures for the week ending December 25 showed a Scottish steer average of 409.4p/dwkg, compared to 415.2p in the North of England. Those hitting spec' attracting a 10p premium – 423.4p against 413.4p in Scotland.

It was a similar story for young bulls, which in Scotland averaged 390.3p, with 3R carcase grade classification cattle selling at 398.7p. In contrast, those cashed in the North of England were making 392.0p and 407.7p, respectively.

The only consolation for those on this side of the Border was there was slightly less of a premium for heifers heading south, which balanced out at 415.2p, with those producing R4L carcases at 420.8p. Scottish heifers sold the same week were making 412.3p and 415.2p.

Furthermore, while base prices have 'stood on' last weeks values, with Scotbeef quoting 407p; Kepak at 404p; Highland Meats at 410p and ABP at 400p, they remain down on pre-Christmas quotations.

In contrast, Scott Ferrie, market manager and auctioneer at Darlington, was confident, prices will maintain their pre-Christmas values when selling through the live ring due to a shortage of supplies and strong demand.

"Wholesalers and butchers, don't have the reserves. Their fridges are empty and there are not the cattle out there to buy, so I can't see the beef price falling. We'll still see a lot of bulls and heifers selling at £3 plus per kg at our prime sales," said Mr Ferrie.

Adding to the buoyancy at High Street level, is the Omicron Covid-19 variant, which Mr Ferrie said had severely curtailed the restaurant and hotel trade, but ensured more people stayed at home and cooked meals based on meat from local butchers. In doing so, they often buy better quality meat and more of it when their money can go further.

Keeping schools open also bolstered the beef trade, Mr Ferrie added, adding that up to 25% of the prime cattle sold at Darlington come from Scotland, with next week's figure expected to rise to 50%.

Neil Shand, chief executive of the National Beef Association also remains confident the beef trade will remain strong and above the £4 per dwkg bracket, when there were not the cattle on the ground to satisfy demand.

(See page 8 for Jim Brown's Farm View column on the same subject).