There had been some optimism among beef producers that the turning of the year would bring better prices.
Auction values had edged upwards from October onwards, but since January have slipped to around 2 per cent less than they were a year ago.
In the week ending 8 February steer prices were averaging 333p/kg deadweight, nearly five per cent less than the year before.
Cow beef prices were bucking that trend, said Duncan Wyatt, chief red meat analyst for AHDB, with average prices topping 230/kg deadweight in the week to February 8, 6.5 per cent more than the year before.
“Cow prices are above their five-year average with a decent demand for processing beef,” said Mr Wyatt.
“We predict cow slaughterings to be 50,000 head down this year, which should keep the market tight.”
A reduced demand for cuts of beef, including steaks, continues to overshadow the prime cattle market, although the small reduction in slaughtering AHDB has predicted – 50,000 out of two million – may give some support.
Encouragingly for beef producers, consumption is not falling dramatically in the face of attacks on ruminant production and the rise in interest in more plant-based meals.
AHDB analysts expect overall British beef consumption to slip from 1.104 million tonnes to 1.102 million in 2020 and to 1.090 million tonnes by 2022.
Analysis by Meat Promotion Wales (Hybu Cig Cymru) suggested reduced calf numbers and reduced valving intervals were tightening the beef market in the country and increasing its efficiency.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland producers fear continued low prices were threatening their businesses.
The Ulster Farmers Union calculates that the country’s beef industry lost more than £36 million in the year to the end of October because of lower prices and higher costs.
Covid 19 fears for global sheep sales
Sheep prices started 2020 at record January levels, with values more than 10 per cent higher than last year. But the emergence and spread of the Covid 19 coronavirus has cast a shadow over the market.
AHDB’s average auction sheep price on February 8 stood at 224.79p/kg liveweight.
That was 23.4 per cent more than in February 2019 but less than the price in the same week of 2018.
Deadweight prices continued to increase and were at an average of 496.6p/kg on 8 February, 16.6 per cent more than last year and similar to the 2019 high achieved in late May.
Tight UK supply should continue to support prices, said Mr Wyatt, but producers should not necessarily expect very high prices.
Global lamb sales had benefited from knock-on demand following the extensive culling of pigs in China due to African Swine Fever.
Now New Zealand exporters have warned coronavirus will reduce Chinese sheepmeat demand.
That trade increased by 40 per cent to NZ$1.6 billion (£790 million) last year.
With more than 85 per cent of New Zealand’s lamb exported, the UK, EU and Middle East will be obvious destinations if the country needs to make up for any shortfalls in China.