Tough times may be ahead for autumn beef trade
After two weeks of disruption due to farmer protests, full factory operations resumed on Monday last week, with that day's kill reaching 9,836hd.
That figure had many fearing that we were about to see a complete avalanche of supplies. However, by Tuesday that number had reduced to 7,922. The final total for the week, while up, settled at 38,000 animals.
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Let's be clear: meat processors of Ireland don't kill nearly 10,000 cattle in a day unless they're set up to do so.
What did all this activity do to prices? Despite rumours - driven by the realisation that massive numbers were going under the knife early in the week - that both bullocks and heifers could slip by 5c/kg to €3.45 and €3.55/kg respectively, prices were reported as holding at €3.50-3.60/kg for both bullocks and heifers.
Yesterday I had reports of bullocks being quoted at €3.45/kg, with heifers on €3.55/kg, but in the same breath €3.50-3.60/kg was mentioned. The feeling I get though is that agents are being told to reset the mood music.
Quotes for young bulls have already reset, with R grades under 16 months to go on the grid now on €3.40/kg.
That leaves your under-24 month bull on €3.50-3.55/kg for U grades, with Rs at €3.40/kg, and Os back around the €3.20-3.30/kg mark. Any remaining Friesian bulls may struggle further.
Cow prices by contrast continue to be relatively resilient. O-grade cows appear to be around the €2.80-2.90/kg mark, with Rs on €3.00-3.10/kg, better P grades making from €2.70/kg, with well-fleshed types slipping in along with their O-grading sisters at €2.90/kg.
Figures from Bord Bia give a clear indication that trade in Ireland this autumn could be tough. They reported R3 grade factory bulls at the end of July as averaging €3.02/kg in Belgium, €2.79/kg in Poland and €3.17/kg in Holland. In France R3 grade steers averaged €3.67/kg, while in Britain they were making just 3c/kg more at €3.70/kg.
As the autumn moves in, I wonder will British supermarkets and beef processors repeat what they did prior to the March 29 Brexit deadline date: stockpile supplies.
Prior to going into talks with Meat Industry Ireland yesterday ICSA president Edmond Phelan laid down an important marker about any review of the QPS grid.
"There is no question that better bonuses can be paid for U grades as well as R+ grades without any further deductions on lower grade cattle," he said. "The grid was devised to be price-neutral. However, the fact that the grid is no longer price neutral is clear for all to see."
In the know...
George Candler noted bigger numbers going under his hammer last week with the trade for heifers a bit firmer.
On the bullock side quality was variable with prices for anything below 400kg not getting above €2.10/kg. 600kg+ steers sold from €1.60-2.15/kg, with forward stores making from €1.50-2.35/kg. 400-500kg bullocks made from €1.50-2.60/kg. On the heifer side beef sold from €1.70-2.20/kg, with forward stores selling from €1.60-2.72/kg; lighter lots made from €1.50-2.25/kg. Continental cull cows sold from €1.35-2.03/kg, with Friesians making from €1.05-1.70/kg.
Numbers here remained steady with prices also holding. Samples from the heifer side show a 525kg Charolais-cross making €2.10kg, a 490kg Limousin-cross at €2.20/kg, while a 350kg Aberdeen Angus saw the hammer fall at €2/kg.
Among the bullocks was 435kg Charolais at €2.22/kg, a 505kg Limousin-cross at €2.11/kg, and a 505kg Limousin-cross at €1.91/kg.
Top of the weanling bulls saw a 390kg Limousin make €2.11/kg, while an 800kg Belgian Blue dry cow raised the green flag at €1.76/kg.
Numbers of weanlings were also steady here, with prices also stable. There was no denying quality consistently brought better prices, however, as farmers and shippers went about their business. Sample prices on the bull side saw Charolais stock from 270kg to 320kg and on to 350kg selling from €3.05-3.08/kg. Best of the Limousin bulls from 335-395kg sold from €2.53-2.71/kg. On the weanling heifer side, the best of the best saw a 405kg Belgian Blue make €2.81/kg, followed by a 395kg Limousin that clicked €2.78/kg.
"Beef cows sold from €300-745 over the €1/kg with feeders ranging from €120-280 over. It was fair lively," Jim Bushe told me as specialist buyers pushed the market upwards. Possibly helping those cull prices was the fact that both beef bullocks and heifers were in short supply. Light Friesian bullocks sold €125-270 over the €1/kg, with continental stores making from €465-820 with their weight.
Angus and Hereford heifers sold up to €790 with their weight, with continental stores making from €400-600 over the €1/kg.
The cull cow also performed well down in Kerry with Maurice Brosnan reporting averages around the €1.75/kg mark. Top of the market was a 710kg Belgian Blue that made €2.28/kg. Continental store bullocks sold from €2.00-2.30/kg, with Friesian stores averaging around the €1.50/kg mark. Heavy bullocks were also strong, with samples including 660kg Angus at €1.90/kg. Among the bull weanlings 280-320kg continental bulls averaged €2.84/kg. Maurice did wonder how the stronger bull will perform at marts this autumn after a year of factory price cuts.
John O'Hanlon also wondered how heavier bulls will fare as time goes on. For the moment his 300-400kg weanling averaged €2.20/kg, which was up slightly on the average for August 2018 of €2.19/kg. Samples included 390kg Limousins at €2.25/kg, with 375kgs making €2.33/kg. On the heifer side 400-500kg averaged €2.03/kg. This is back 15c/kg on this time last year. John is moving his weanling sale to Saturday to accommodate a growing cohort of buyers and sellers who are working full-time and farming part-time.
A bigger sale saw a corresponding increase in buying activity at ringside. Bullocks sold from €500-620 with the €1/kg, with stores making from €300-780 with the weight.
Beef heifers made €475-670 with their weight, while store-type heifers ranged from €350-940 with their weight. An improving cull cow market saw prices range from €650-1,365/hd.
Bulls made from €480-775/hd with the €1/kg.
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