A surge in British beef prices and reduced factory production here have led to a major resurgence in the live export trade to Northern Ireland.
Exports of cattle to the North are up 38pc this year, with the bulk of the increase seen in the last two months.
Marts in the Border, midlands and western regions are reporting strong demand from Northern buyers, particularly for heavy cattle and cows.
Gerry Connellan, manager of Elphin Mart in Roscommon, said Northern buyers have driven a rally in dry cow, bull and heifer prices in the past two weeks, with dry cows making €1.80/2.10kg. The competition around the ring has seen the price of good cows up by €100-€150/head, he said.
"We'd always have had some Northern buyers looking to buy cattle for feeding, but these buyers are buying beef cattle for killing," he said
Dowra Mart manager Terry McGovern said Northern buyers have been active in the Cavan sales centre due to the higher beef price in the North.
"There is more interest for all types of cattle, but forward beef cattle especially are going North, along with heavy cows, bullocks and heifers. It has definitely firmed up the price for cows, with dry cows making €1.90-2.10/kg at the moment," he said.
Seamus McMenamin, economist with the Livestock and Meat Commission in Northern Ireland, said tight supplies of cattle in recent weeks have seen demand rise across the board, including steers and heifers.
Bord Bia figures for the week ending June 13 show that 1,800 cattle were exported to Northern Ireland - up 320pc on the same week last year.
Almost 300 cows were exported for direct slaughter in Northern plants alone in that week, accounting for almost 15pc of the total cow kill in the North.
And with the availability of locally produced prime cattle remaining tight, base quotes from the major Northern plants continue to strengthen.
For the week ending June 13, average prices paid in Northern Ireland received a further increase, with R3-grade steers and heifer prices now averaging £3.59/kg - equivalent to €4.01/kg excluding VAT.
This compares to €3.60/kg for similar cattle in the south.
It comes as prices continue to surge in the UK. The UK all-prime average price rose 5.4p on the week to 358.4p/kg. The price is now 19.5p/kg higher than last year, and 12.3p above the five-year average.
Good weather has supported retail beef sales, while increasing food-service demand has also contributed.
However, market commentators in Britain are keeping a close eye on market developments in Ireland.
AHDB analyst Hannah Clarke says a key watchpoint will be how Irish production recovers and affects GB prices as lockdown is lifted.
"Irish production is beginning to increase, following slaughter restrictions due to Covid-19. If this beef enters the UK market, it could begin to pressure prices," she said.