Ammo for militants as February price spreads come in wider than 12 months ago Farmers again receiving smaller cut from shopper The livestock farmer's share of the pound spent from the shopper's purse is shrinking again, according to the latest price spread analysis by MLC economist Tony Fowler. Before Christmas the differentials between farmgate and retail values for most livestock and meat were narrower than a year earlier, according to Fowler's calculations, but his new figures show February spreads wider than 12 months previously. The sharp increase from 53.7% to 61% in the price spread for pork coincides with renewed militancy in the pig sector. Yet Fowler's method of calculating the spreads yields results much less dramatic than the crude comparisons favoured by farmers, who tend to quote deadweight or even liveweight prices per kilo paid by slaughterers and contrast these with the labels on choice cuts in the supermarket chiller cabinets. At present, for instance, a medium steer is worth perhaps 90p per kg live at an English auction and about 170p deadweight at a neighbouring abattoir, while the nearest supermarket is probably charging shoppers roughly £11 per kg for sirloin steak. Fowler, however, has used a retail value of just 390p for his February spread calculation and 369p for the corresponding 2001 estimate, describing them as "untrimmed MLC prices adjusted for drip loss". Subtracting deadweight cattle prices (172p for the latest period, 167p previously) from the retail figures gives spreads of 218p and 202p. T these expressed as 55.8% and 54.7% of the retail prices are far closer to commercial reality than the impression given by the farmers' preferred technique for measuring supermarket "profits". Among traders, however, even Fowler's prudent methodology is seen as leaving producers unable to comprehend how much of the original carcase weight is lost or unavoidably devalued before those apparently expensive steaks reach the retail shelf. Killing out percentages are now understood by many farmers but carcase composition, saleable meat yield and processing costs are still a mystery to most. {{MEAT }}