QMS points to better cattle supply

Abattoirs in Scotland dealt with 10% more head of cattle than one month ago, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Such an increase was mirrored in English and Welsh abattoirs too, which saw increases of around 3,000 (20%) head per week since the start of August, noted Stuart Ashworth, QMS head of economics services.

Prime lamb availability has also increased, with auction sales of prime lambs up by around 7% on the previous month in Scotland.

Ashworth said: “Increased volumes often result in some market price correction. It is therefore not surprising that prime cattle prices have steadied over the past few weeks as the market has become slightly better supplied.”

Despite a rise in availability, he said producer prices had stuck at 12-15% above last year, as cattle availability was still struggling to meet last year’s levels.  

“In contrast, prime lamb prices have edged higher despite the number of lambs on the market rising and being higher than this time last year.  Prices now stand just short of 10% higher than this time last year,” he added.

Pig prices strong

Meanwhile, he explained that pig producers had also gained from the strength of the red meat market, with carcase prices 10% higher than 12 months ago.

Yet Ashworth said that, while producers had benefited from higher farm-gate prices, consumers were continuing to get “exceptional value for money”, even though they did not see it as such.   

He added: “Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that consumers are paying 8.8% more than last year for beef, 8.2% more for UK lamb, and 3.3% more for pork.

“When compared to the 10-15% increases paid for livestock by processors and butchers, these more modest increases at retail level are exceptional value for money and illustrate the squeeze being felt in the supply chain beyond the farm gate.”

Higher red meat prices

However, Ashworth warned that consumers could soon start to see higher red meat prices, as the Consumer Price Index was only 2.7% up on the last year.

These increases in retail meat prices are considerably higher than the many measures of general consumer price inflation. Nevertheless, he said, the supply prospects will continue to be healthy and a provisional UK census recorded a decline of just 1% in the UK lamb crop, with just a 3% drop in under-one-year-old cattle on farms in June this year.

Although consumers may be wary, the supply prospects continue to favour producers with provisional UK census results recording a decline of at least 1% in the UK lamb crop and 3% fewer under-one-year-old cattle on farms in June this year.

“Census results from Ireland similarly show a decline in cattle and sheep numbers, with the number of cattle under one year old down 3% and prime lamb numbers almost 3% lower than last year,” Ashworth said.

“However, what both the UK and Irish census show is potential for a short-term increase in cattle supplies, with the number of one- to two-year-old cattle on farms in June, 2% higher than last year in the UK and 9% higher in the Republic of Ireland.”