Sterling is still the X factor for beef
But a price drop in 2016 looks inevitable with significant increases in stock numbers both here and on the Continent
At farm level, the beef market during 2015 experienced a considerable recovery on the low levels of the previous year, with average prices for R grade steers up 8pc or 30c/kg deadweight. This performance reflected 5pc lower Irish supplies of 83,000 head, combined with stronger returns from the UK market.
Following an initial rise early in 2015, cattle prices held stable throughout the spring, before peaking during June and July. At that time, steers and heifers achieved base prices of up to €4.30/kg and €4.40/kg deadweight, respectively. However, over the autumn months prices declined steadily to fall below the previous year's levels in December.
In Britain, R3 steer prices are currently averaging £3.42 sterling per kilogramme, equivalent to €4.60/kg. In sterling terms, British cattle prices declined slightly on average during 2015, in comparison with the previous year.
Prices there are starting off the year about 30p/kg below January 2015. However, a 10pc weakening in the value of the euro, from 80.5p in 2014 to 72.5p last year, made the UK market more favourable for Irish beef.
As a result, the UK is estimated to have accounted for 54pc of Irish beef exports in 2015, up from 51pc the previous year. The euro is valued at 74p presently, compared to 78p this time last year.
However, continental European markets, which collectively accounted for 43pc of Irish beef exports in 2015, have proven more challenging. For much of last year, finished cattle prices in these countries were below those prevailing in Ireland. For example, R-grade young bull prices at the year-end were €3.76 in France, €4.04 in Germany, €3.86/kg in Italy and €3.69/kg in Spain.
Overall within Europe, consumption of beef is estimated to have recovered by 0.4pc for the second consecutive year, having previously dropped by more than 5pc over the period from 2011 to 2013.