Beef supply and demand set to settle, says QMS

Beef prices could begin to firm up in the coming months, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has predicted, in welcome news for cattle farmers, who have faced falling prices during the first part of the year.

Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with QMS, said the supply and demand pendulum would soon start to swing back towards farmers as availability of prime cattle in the UK started to diminish in the next quarter.

“We expect to see the volume of cattle arriving at abattoirs slow down. It is likely we will then see some firmness in the market for the beef producer,” Ashworth predicted.

Ashworth said a range of factors had led to falling prices at the start of the year, all based around supply and demand. The volume of beef produced over the first quarter increased 1%, due to cattle being slaughtered at heavier weights. In addition, the strong pound has meant imports have become attractive, and exporting has become more expensive.

“Add to that the increase in domestic supply and we find that the market has been working with around 8% more beef than a year ago,” said Ashworth.

That would not have been a problem if consumption had been strong, but while it has improved for some cuts, it has not been enough to absorb the extra supply.

“Some cuts have been selling better than others, but the product which is not selling well has been building up in processors’ chills and has had to find a market in the manufacturing trade, which has been proving sluggish,” added Ashworth.

“This explains why we have seen a slide in farm-gate prices and why some of our producers have been facing an extended period to get cattle to market.”

However, looking forward he said the outlook was looking more promising for beef farmers.

“We know from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) data that the volume of cattle set to come forward as prime stock over the next six to nine months will diminish further and the same scenario is expected in Ireland,” said Ashworth. “This will mean the abattoirs will be able to manage the sale of less popular cuts out of their cold stores and the whole supply and demand balance will come closer together.”

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