Business Farming

Thursday 18 September 2014

Anxious weanling producers 'panic-selling' stock

Martin Ryan

Published 27/08/2014 | 02:30

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Weanling bulls have been up this week
Weanling bulls

Reduction in factory prices sees fall-off in farmer interest. There were signs of 'panic selling' of weanlings in marts around the country over the last week as the lack of confidence among beef finishers hit the trade for younger stock.

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Mart managers are reporting growing anxiety among weanling producers who are becoming increasingly fearful of a collapse in the home market when sales get into full swing in September.

Export demand is maintaining a floor under the trade at €2.20-€3/kg for suitable continentals and year to date exports are slightly back on last year at 17,527, compared to 18,258 for the same period last year.

After a very positive start to the farmer trade, with the prices holding up very well - at or close to parity with 2013 - several marts report a fall-off in farmer interest in recent days in reaction to the latest reduction in beef prices by the factories.

Sean Ryan, manager, Sixmilebridge Mart said: "I have never seen farmers more despondent in my life and a big drop in interest. It wasn't too bad up to about a week ago, but we had very few farmers buying last week.

He added: "I can't blame them. They need to see something in it for them and they are finding it very hard to see any future with the way that the beef has gone - the trade has been destroyed by the factories. Some action needs to be taken immediately to restore confidence".

JJ Peters, Mountrath Mart said: "There was an almost complete clearance on Thursday night. There is panic setting in among farmers that the trade is going to get worse and they are selling to get out early".

He said that farmers with plenty of grass are advance booking in cattle for sales, weeks earlier than normal, in fear of further deterioration in the trade.

Maura Quigley, manager, Roscommon Mart reported that farmers were very satisfied with prices at the opening weanling show and trade last week which were on par with 2013 where clearance for both bulls and heifers was up on last year.

She said that choice Belgian Blue bulls sold for up to €3.52/kg. The average for bulls was 11c/kg higher than last year and the average for heifers up by 7c/kg.

Richard Kirwan, manager, New Ross Mart said: "So far, I'd say that the prices are back on average €100-€150/hd on last year and that is due to the beef trade. The farmers are very uncertain where it is going and what they can pay for weanlings this year."

Overall entries are down on 2013 due to later calving this year, as a carry over from the difficult spring last year and bigger than usual sales are expected for next month.

Richard Kirwan, manager, New Ross Mart

"They are back on last year. The average run of what is being paid by farmers is around €2/kg. The situation in the beef trade is causing a lot of uncertainty among farmers and they are not anxious to pay above €2.05-€2.10/kg this year.

"We had some nice Charolais bulls making €2.40/kg and some very good Belgian Blues made up to €2.60/kg but they would be the exceptions. The heavier and dearer weanlings in general are being bought for export and they would be making €2.30-€2.50/kg on average. The farmers are cautious and once they go above €2/kg they are dropping out. They have got such a scalding this year they are slower to go back in again.

"The numbers coming out are still small and a lot of the farmers are still at the harvesting around here. Our next sale is on September 6 and we will get a better idea then as to what the trade is going to be like.

"So far, I'd say that the prices are back on average €100-€150/hd on last year and that is due to the beef trade. The farmers are very uncertain where it is going and what they can pay for weanlings this year".

Maura Quigley, manager, Roscommon Mart

"There was a very good trade for our opening show and sale for the season. On average the prices were very slightly back on last year and the farmers were really happy with what they were getting, because with the good weather and excellent grass growth this year, their costs were lower because they did not have to feed as much meal.

"There was a clearance of 75pc in the heifers compared to 70pc last year and 89pc in the bulls compared to 87pc in 2013. Overall the average for heifers was back by 7c/kg and the bulls by 11c/kg. The average for the bulls was €2.34/kg compared to €2.45 last year and for the heifers €2.39/kg compare to €2.46/kg last year. The tops of the sale - Belgian Blues - made up to €3.52 last year and they were back to €3.14/kg this year.

"There was a mix of farmers and exporters buying. The exporters were the biggest buyers. We did not have any buyers from Northern Ireland. They have not been our strongest buyers for the weanlings in the past, but would come more for the stores.

"Generally the farmers were really happy with the sale, but we expect more younger stock for the next sale which is on September 9 and that will be good test of the trade".

Michael Harty, manager, Roscrea Mart

"There are very few weanlings coming out in this area yet. They usually do not come out in large numbers until October and with calving in many herds later than usual this year the weanlings are younger than usual for this time of the year.

"The weather is also helping producers this year. It is very good and ground conditions are good. There is plenty of grass and we won't see the larger weanling sales for another six weeks.

"There is a mix of farmers and exporters buying. What we are seeing at present are some of the older weanlings born in 2013.

"They are around 400-450 kgs and the bulls are making €2/kg to €2.20/kg. It is hard to gauge the market yet because the numbers on offer are too small. There will be a better reckoning on the trade in October, but the beef situation is not helping confidence."

Dan McCarthy, manager, Kenmare Mart

"The numbers are down on last year so far. Calvings appear to be much later this year and weanlings in general will probably be lighter.

"The nice Charolais bull on Thursday at 350kgs was making up to €850. We had a lot of three Charolais together at 230kgs making €740 - that is serious money.

"The heifers are also a good trade generally. We had a Charolais 370 kgs selling at €830 and 192 kgs making €610 - a very good price.

"Our numbers are low because producers are not under pressure to sell. The grass is still growing and there is time for them to come out yet.

"I find that a lot of the suckler farmers are very concerned because the cow is costing too much to keep and the weanling is costing too much to bring them to market and the beef farmer is not making enough out of them - currently they're making nothing. They are saying that if the beef farmer can't buy them, what business have they with the cow.

"Suckler farmers are getting out. At our end of year cull cow sale last December we have five times the normal entry - we never had anything like that entry before. If that is the trend all over the country it is not looking good".

Martin Ryan, manager, Mid-Tipp 
Mart (Thurles)

"We had an astonishingly good sale last week with the prices holding up very well. I was actually surprised at some of the prices that were being paid. We have a good few of the older weanlings, approaching yearling stage and a mix of farmers and exporters buying. We had one good buyer, a bull beef producer and a couple of buyers for Northern Ireland who thought that the 'nomad' situation was resolved.

"The continental bulls are making €2-€2.40/kg. The heifers were selling at €1.70-€2.08/kg. The beef price is a big issue among finishers and they don't know what to do. There are a lot of large finishers in this area and they are not buying because of the uncertainty. It is going to have a big effect on the trade if there is no improvement in beef prices at the factories.

"There is no confidence among farmers that there is anything in beef for them and they are being very cautious. A lot of regular farmer customers for the weanlings are waiting to see what is going to happen before they decide what they are going to do.

Sean Ryan, manager, Sixmilebridge Mart

"The export trade is going well, but the confidence of farmers in the beef trade is gone - they don't know where the trade is going and they are waiting to see if there is going to be any change. The exporters are paying up to €3/kg for the fancy Belgian Blue bulls. They are ranging €2.55-€3/kg and the good U grades are making €2.50-€2.60 for export. They are paying almost the same price for the heifers.

"I have customers who normally bought a couple of hundred weanlings. This year they have sold their beef, but have bought nothing. They don't have the confidence in the future of the trade. It's costing them what they got for finished cattle to replace them and they don't see anything left in it for them - they're losing".

J J Peters, committee member, Mountrath Mart

"The good weanlings are still selling well, but the plainer lots are back and the trade overall has quietened a lot over the past week because the confidence among farmers is not there. We have a good few people who would normally be buying at this time of the year and they are keeping their hands in their pockets - they simply don't know what to do and they are not buying.

"The bulls are averaging €2/kg, with the good continentals making up to €2.40-€2.50/kg. We are finding that the heifer trade is good but the larger numbers have yet to come out and farmers are not confident enough to put money into producing beef with the current situation at the factories.

"There was an almost complete clearance on Thursday night. There is panic setting in among farmers that the trade is going to get worse and they are selling to get out early. The weather is good and there is plenty of grass. Normally they'd be holding these weanlings for later, but they are very worried as to what is going to happen and with the way that beef prices are going the trade could worsen.

Tom McCarthy, manager, Skibbereen

"We had a good entry of quality weanlings on Friday and they met with a good trade, but saying that there is no doubt that the prices are back on last year by €80-€120/hd and farmers are being very cautious in buying. That said they were buying, and about 90pc of the weanlings on Friday were bought by farmers - a mix of beef producers, big and small - and about 10pc of the sales were to exporters.

"The bulls were making €2-€2.40/kg, with most of the sales at €2-€2.20/kg, and the heifers sold at €2-€2.20/kg. The farmers are more anxious for the smaller weanling this year. They regard that they are getting better value even though they may be costing a bit more per kg than the heavier lots.

"There is no doubt there is a lot more caution in the trade and farmers are unsure of where the beef is going - that is a big problem.

"I find that the weanlings are weighing very well this year.

"It has been a good year for grass and they are being well done but the beef price is a real problem of concern to farmers buying."

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