Business Farming

Saturday 20 September 2014

Suckler farmers face 'wipeout' over loss of NI sales

Martin Ryan

Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30

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'The beef price and loss of Northern customers is going to have a big effect on the weanling trade'
'The beef price and loss of Northern customers is going to have a big effect on the weanling trade'

Suckler farmers in the west of Ireland are facing a 'total wipeout' if the autumn trade for weanlings collapses, mart managers have warned.

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There is growing concern that the absence of Northern Ireland buyers will see weanling bull prices fall back by €300-€350/head when sales commence next month.

This would be 25pc down on 2013 prices and reflects the overall drop of 80-85c/kg in the average beef price.

Martin Costelloe, Ballinasloe Mart manager, said there is serious concern in the region about the future for small suckler farmers.

"If the finishers are getting €300-€400/hd less at the factories and they pass that back to the autumn trade for the weanlings, the suckler farmers will get out. They'll be completely strangled and they won't survive it.

"Traditionally, Northern buyers were taking 300-400 cattle per week. They maintained the trade. They are all gone and it is a huge loss to the trade," he added.

"The big feeders in Northern Ireland want to get the supply of store cattle and weanlings from the South and the issue with the beef processors has to be resolved. I believe that the suckler farmers in the west are facing a total wipe-out this autumn without the Northern buyers, and there has to be an all-Ireland solution to it."

Roscommon mart manager Maura Quigley said she had never seen the prospects as bad. "If there is no change, the suckler farmers will be very badly hit and many of them are small and can't afford to take it," she added.

"This is primarily a store cattle area and the buyers from Northern Ireland were a great addition to competition at the sales.

Claim

"The sterling rate was good for them and they could claim back the VAT which meant that they were able to pay more for the stock."

Clare is a key county for the production of quality store cattle, but Martin McNamara from Clare Marts said the county has suffered badly from the loss of the Northern trade.

"The Northern customers are completely gone out of the system and they are a big loss to the store trade. We also had local people buying for the Northerncustomers and they are out of business. Some were left with stock on their hands and had a serious problem to dispose of them," he said.

"The beef price and loss of Northern customers is going to have a big effect on the weanling trade.

"I think feeders will go for the lighter and less costly weanling this autumn because they will not be in a position to finance the more expensive ones," he added.

The collapse in the Northern trade will top the agenda at a meeting planned for Ballinasloe later this month. Trade representatives from the South will sit down with a delegation led by Michelle O'Neill, the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture.

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