Beef prices are rising and are now close to July's record levels. Industry figures have praised farmers for holding their nerve during the summer dip and avoiding a repeat of last summer's free-fall. But further price rises were inevitable against a backdrop of grocery price inflation, they added.

MLC beef economist Duncan Sinclair said the UK average deadweight price had climbed back to 210p/kg, just 2p/kg short of the record set on July 1.

"UK beef prices are back to pre-summer levels, before the exceptionally hot weather caused a 'wobble' in demand," he said.

Lower temperatures and the end of the holiday season have helped to put prices back on track, added Sinclair. They fell as low as 198p/kg in mid-August -still well above values last summer.

"This time last year prices were in free fall, but now they're holding firm. The current price is 35p per kilogram deadweight higher than the price of beef this time last year. For an average carcase that's an additional £115 at the farm gate."

The National Beef Association said this year's stronger prices had stemmed the flow of farmers leaving the industry.

"We haven't seen the slump in prices that brought many producers

to their knees last summer - quite the opposite, in fact," said chief executive, Robert Forster.

"This summer foot-and-mouth export restrictions on Brazil and self-imposed beef export restrictions by Argentina's government, coupled with the fact that there was considerably less beef coming from Eire during the summer, have served to strengthen prices.

"Demand for beef in the UK and across Europe is also growing," he added.

He also dismissed rumours of shortages and rubbished one report that claimed wholesale prime beef was now more expensive than foie gras.