Is it back to the future for the beef industry?
Published 05/07/2016 | 02:30
Is it a case of 'back to the future' for the Irish beef industry in the wake of the Brexit vote?
That is the question that many in the Irish agri-sector are asking themselves following the UK's seismic referendum result.
While Britain's future trading arrangements with the EU are a matter of guesswork and conjecture, most will hope that the price volatility and uncertainty that characterised the cattle trade in the 1950s and early 1960s will not be repeated.
British buyers dominated the Irish cattle and beef trade in the post-war era. Over 90pc of live cattle exports went to Britain; and while Ireland had a lucrative contract supplying meat to the US forces based in Europe, the UK was also a major customer for processed beef.
The cattle industry was a vital source of export earnings for the country. Official figures for 1960 to 1964 show that live cattle exports averaged 663,000 head a year, while around 60,000 tonnes of beef were shipped annually.
However, returns to farmers reflected the vagaries of the world market, with the threat of increased supplies into Europe from South America and Australia being enough to undermine prices in Irish fairs and markets.
Newspaper reports from the Dublin Cattle Market in the late 1950s and early 1960s tell of the market being down on the back of increased imports.
Rumours of massive Argentine beef imports into Britain were also a standard ploy used by dealers to pull prices at fairs.