April slaughter statistics show that Scottish abattoirs, on average, processed 15 percent fewer cattle per week than during March.
Compared to the same month in 2019, the April prime cattle kill was 3.5 per cent lower, having been 9 per cent higher during March.
Stuart Ashworth, Director of Economic Services at Quality Meat Scotland said: “Across the UK, the weekly prime cattle kill during April was 11 per cent lower than during March and 3.2 per cent lower than a year ago.
"Meanwhile, since the introduction of lockdown measures in Ireland, their abattoirs have handled almost 23 per cent less prime cattle per week during April than in March and 17 per cent fewer than a year ago.
“The volume of home-produced beef on the market both in the UK and Ireland has then tightened considerably as April has progressed, having been much higher during March.”
The latest trade data from Customs and Excise, although still provisional, shows that UK beef exports in each of the first three months of the year were higher than last year. Similarly, although beef imports during March were much higher than in February, they were slightly lower than a year earlier, as they had been throughout the first quarter of 2020.
Looking at December census data from the UK and Ireland, it suggests prime stock supplies should be slightly tighter than a year ago.
“Across the UK, 5 per cent less male cattle of 1-2 years old were recorded on holdings in December 2019 than December 2018. In Ireland, it was 4 per cent less, as female numbers in this age group were also reduced,” said Mr Ashworth.
“It is then a little surprising that over the first quarter of 2020 that the UK slaughtered 3.7 per cent more prime cattle than a year ago and Ireland around 2 per cent more.
“Equally, though, this higher kill in the first quarter of 2020, combined with census data, suggests that prime cattle supplies should tighten considerably in coming months,” he added.
Consequently, although measures taken to control Covid-19 have reduced the speed at which slaughter and cutting plants can handle cattle, a lower number of cattle being available for slaughter will also have affected slaughter numbers during April.
According to Mr Ashworth, the recent movements in prime cattle prices may well be a reflection of basic livestock availability.
Additionally, though, although mince remains a dominant product, supermarket shelves are now carrying a broader and more balanced range of cuts as promotional activities by QMS and other levy boards help to show consumers that here are more ways to use beef than in mince-based products.
Furthermore, some food service businesses are re-opening, both traditional take-away businesses, but also pubs and restaurants converting to takeaway menus.