Martin Coughlan: Mart closures raising some hard questions
In the last 10 months three major marts have ceased trading. Added to the loss of Castleblayney and Carrick-on-Suir marts in 2018, last week's closure of Mountrath had some in the business asking hard questions as to where now for those remaining.
It is believed that increasing insurance premiums were a significant factor in the case of Mountrath's decision to cease trading; as they were in the case of the decision made by the directors of Carrick-on-Suir Mart to not reopen their gates after a fire last year gutted the block housing the administration and canteen facilities.
Or is it a case that beef farming is evolving and the marts have to also evolve. And as that happens, will there be further casualties?
Leaving the questions of mart evolution to one side, last week's trade saw a good share of marts reopening to higher-than-expected numbers with the resultant trade summed up by George Candler of Kilkenny as being "solid as opposed to spectacular".
The Ringside figures for bullocks support George's analysis with the 300-399kg division, while improved, was only so by 3c/kg or from €9-12/hd. In the 500-599kg section, average overall prices were better last week by 2c/kg on average (€10-12/hd) while the 600kg+ bullock rose 1c/kg. The most interesting returns among the bullocks on this week's table come in the 400-499kg section, where prices last week jumped 14c/kg on average to €2.08c/kg. The major driver of that overall average price increase came among the top quarter as the price of that better 400-499kg bullock pushed upwards by 17c/kg or €68-85/hd.
The figures show overall average prices for all heifers improving right across the spectrum. In the 350-399kg section, average prices rose 13c/kg, while the 400-499kg and 500-599kg sections rose 20c/kg and 22c/kg respectively. The biggest increase came in the 600kg+ section, where overall averages went up 32c/kg, with the better made heifer banging 41c/kg onto her price - that's a massive €246/hd.
Part of what drove the trade last week has to be the continuing dry weather. With the mild weather seeing stock indoors not eating as much fodder as might have been expected, those with cattle sold ventured forth to see what was about. What they found, in some places, was surprisingly big numbers for the time of year.
I spoke to various men about why these numbers appeared at this time - but the only consensus was there wasn't one.
In the know
Sean Ryan described his first sale of 2019 as "small, but good". With a good few farmers out and "fair demand". Heifers sold from €1.90-2.29/kg, while bullocks averaged from €1.80-2.32/kg. On the weanling side, the majority weighed in at between 330-340kgs and sold respectably from €2.10-2.45/kg. Summing up, Sean reckoned that his trade was broadly in line with pre-Christmas returns although with some Friesian cull cows selling for up to €200 over the €1/kg, they were "definitely improved".
2 New Ross
The story here was of beef bullocks selling from €500-880/hd over the €1/kg, with Continental stores making from €420-700/hd with their weight, and Hereford and Angus stores making €290-450/hd over the €1/kg. Heavy Friesian bullocks sold from €360-500/hd over the weight, with lighter types making €170-380/hd over the weight. Beef heifers made from €470-735/hd over the €1/kg with Continental stores made from €400-635/hd over the €1/kg. Heavy cows sold from €300-570/hd over the €1/kg, with feeder types making from €100-300 with the weight. Those straight from the parlour made from €100/hd under to €100 over the €1/kg.
The first sale of 2019 also saw a stronger-than-expected show of stock and, as elsewhere, prices kept broadly in line with those pre-Christmas. Bullocks from 300-400kgs averaged €2.40/kg, with a 330kg March '18 born Charolais hitting the top price of €2.95/kg. In the 400-500kg section, prices averaged €2/kg with the top price of €2.38/kg going to a 400kg Charolais. Top of the pops among the 500kg+ bullocks saw a 525kg Limousin making €2.30/kg. On the heifer side, those up to 400kgs averaged €2.35/kg, with the top call of €2.77kg going to a 375kg Limousin X.
Demand here saw prices for younger stock improve with this season's earliest calves meeting a very strong trade. Sample prices from the bullock ring included a 460kg Charolais that made €1,100, a 425kg Aberdeen Angus at €945 and a 555kg Charolais saw the hammer fall at €1,280. Among the heifers you had a 435kg Belgian Blue that made €1,095, a 545kg Charolais at €1,290 and a 420kg Charolais at €1,000. Young calves sold from €150-370/hd, while runners made from €400-745/hd. Sample prices among the weanling bulls included a 275kg Charolais that sold for €775, a 395kg Charolais at €945 and a 255kg Limousin that made an impressive €725.
George Candler reckoned his first cattle sale of 2019 was "solid as opposed to spectacular". Average prices for 600kg+ bullocks ranged from €1.70-2.00/kg, with the 500-600kg animal making from €1.60-2.30/kg. Prices for bullocks in the 400-500kg section ranged from €1,50-2.45/kg, with lighter lots selling from €1.40-2.55/kg. Beef heifers made sold for €2.80-3.30/kg, while forward heifers sold from €1.65-2.35/kg. Lighter store heifers made €1.30-1.95/kg. Continental cull cows made from €1.30-1.95/kg, with Friesian culls making from 70c/kg to €1.60/kg.
There was a good entry of stock reported here with a continuation of the pre-Christmas preference for Continentals over Friesian types, with those Friesian types continuing to be a difficult sell. Beef bullocks sold from €1.80-2.59kg, while heifers made from €1.90-2.60/kg. Trade for cull cows saw prices range from €500/hd for feeders to €1,480/hd for the well-fleshed factory type.
Here small numbers met prices broadly in line with the last sales of 2018. On the weanling bull side among others you could pick from two 230kg Limousins at €3/kg, six Aberdeen Angus weighing 284kgs on average and sold for €2.08kg or how about three 373kg Charolais at a tidy €2.57/kg. On the heifer side there were six 289kg Angus X that might not have been overly dear at €1.80/kg, or how about three 360kg Charolais that sold for €2.50/kg. The small entry of calves saw Friesians sell from €85-95/hd, while Angus types made up to €280/hd.
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