Christmas is that time of year when farmers, particularly prime cattle finishers, are looking for a rise in the market.

Referring to the trade for beef, Stuart Ashworth, head of economic services at Quality Meat Scotland, said: "There is a general perception of a significant price movement in the run-up to Christmas.

"However, the biggest movement in recent years was in 2010 when the average price increased by 5% between the beginning of November and the second week of January.

Loading article content

"A look at prices over the past few years suggests that 2010 was an extremely unusual year.

"In 2010 prices rose 2.8% during November and kept rising through to January, but you have to go back to 2006 to see a similar increase during November.

"It is much more usual to see a rise of 1% to 1.5% during November, followed by a further slow increase of up to 1% through December before prices ease back into the new year.

"So what is happening this year? Over the first fortnight of November the average steer price in Scotland has lacked direction, increasing in the first week of November and falling in the second week."

This apparent lack of Christmas spirit is not entirely surprising, observed Mr Ashworth, given the continued caution of consumers.

"A further feature of the overall GB cattle market is a slow increase of supply. Price-reporting abattoirs, for example, currently show a supply about 1% to 2% below last year compared to a 6% to 7% shortfall in September. This modest improvement in supplies is acting as a brake on prices.

"So too is a similar slow increase in cattle supplies in the Republic of Ireland. Throw into the mix a year-on-year deterioration in exchange rate of about 7% – making Irish supplies more competitive in both the UK and European market – and the current lack of direction in the cattle market becomes more easily understood."

Mr Ashworth added: "However, while producers may not see a Christmas lift of the proportions seen in 2010 or 2006 they are currently seeing a price of around 361p to 362p/kg deadweight, which is 5% above last year and at a record high."

United Auctions sold 3300 prime lambs at Stirling on Thursday to a top of £87 per head and 201p per kg to average 146.6p (-8p on the week).

The Cumberland & Dumfriesshire Farmers' Mart sold 5596 prime lambs in Longtown on Thursday to a top of £89.80 and 223p to average 150p.

There were also 7437 cast sheep forward when the quality of the ewes on offer was not as good as last week.

Heavy ewes sold to £120.50 for Texels and averaged £058.29, while light ewes peaked at £60.50 for Cheviots and levelled at £31.69. Rams sold to £106.50 for a Bleu d-Maine and averaged £67.38.