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Saturday 10 December 2016

War over weanlings sees exports collapse

Farmers beating exporters for cattle on back of strong beef price

Published 26/07/2011 | 05:00

Peter O'Connell, Mallow, prepares 'Matilda', his Simmental heifer, at the Ossory Show
Peter O'Connell, Mallow, prepares 'Matilda', his Simmental heifer, at the Ossory Show

Weanling prices are running up to €200/hd higher than last year at marts across the country, relegating live exporters to second place at the mart ringside.

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With farmers paying as high as €2.50-2.70/kg for bull and heifer weanlings, live export numbers have collapsed by nearly 100,000hd during the first half of this year.

Strong beef prices are continuing to drive the trade for all other cattle and mart managers report that cattle are selling faster than one lot per minute.

The latest Bord Bia figures show that total live exports to early July were 40pc lower than the same period last year, at 144,439hd.

Shipments of all categories of stock are substantially lower. Exports of weanlings and stores are down 38pc, exports of finished cattle are down 35pc and the number of calves exported is down by 42pc.

Exports to the main weanling markets of Italy and Spain are running 37pc and 46pc behind last year to date. While Irish beef prices are currently 15pc ahead of last year's levels, cattle prices in Italy and Spain have only risen by 4-5pc in the same period.

"At this stage of the year, we are unlikely to see a dramatic recovery in overall live exports," said Bord Bia's Joe Burke. Generally, more than two-thirds of the annual exports tend to occur during the first half of the year, during the calf season.

"Live exports in 2009 amounted to 290,000 and 2010 amounted to 345,000 but it looks like exports for 2011 could finish closer to 200,000," said Mr Burke.

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Delvin Mart manager John Gilligan said the trade for all cattle, including weanlings, was "on fire".

"Prices have moved up by €50-60/hd in the past fortnight and stores and finishing cattle are €200/hd dearer than last year," he said.

"Average 2010 prices were €300-400 over the weight, but this year they are €500-600 over."

At Kilkenny Mart, 300kg heifers sold for up to €1,000/hd on Thursday.

"With plenty of grass and a scarcity of cattle for the factory, there are loads of customers around," said auctioneer George Candler.

"We used to beg people to sell cattle but we're getting through them at a rate of less than one minute per lot."

Exporters have conceded that farmers are beating them to many of the weanlings on offer.

"It's practically impossible for us to buy weanlings," said one exporter. "The Irish farmer is the most competitive buyer at the moment.

"They are getting €1,200-1,300 at the factory and that's giving them the energy to go out and buy more.

"The price of beef here is nearly on a par with the Continent," said another. "I can't ever remember it being so difficult for me to buy cattle."

Ennis Mart manager Martin McNamara said shippers paid €2.30-2.70/kg for top quality Belgian Blue bulls, with €2.35-2.50 paid for lighter types. He added that farmers were paying that and more for Limousin and Charolais bulls and up to €2.40/kg for heifers.

However, he sounded a note of caution about the remarkable trade.

"It could be safe enough for this year but there is a question mark about next year because of the numbers being retained in the country," he said.

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