Beef holds its ground in wake of horsemeat crisis

Joe Healy

Beef quotes this week are more or less where they were prior to the explosion of the horsemeat crisis. The factories are also after stock. Indeed, the cattle kill last week hit 28,550hd, up 1,300hd from the previous week and 1,000hd up on the corresponding week last year.

Quotes and prices for steers range from 410c/kg to 415c/kg. In-spec R-grades being killed in the northwest yesterday were making up to 418c/kg. Heifers around the country are making 425-435c/kg, with the general run selling for 425-430c/kg.

Reports would suggest that the northeast is the best place to sell heifers. Competition in the northwest for bulls was said to have resulted in 418c/kg being paid for R-grades and 426c/kg for Us. In the main U-grades are selling for 420-425c/kg, with the Rs at 410-415c/kg.

Flat prices for mixes of R and U-grades are being done up to 420c/kg. O-grade bulls are making from 395c/kg to 400c/kg. However, the €4/kg is proving to be a bit tougher to nail down. P-grade Friesians are commanding prices up to 390c/kg.

Trade for cull cows appears to have weathered the storm so far with no change to quotes or prices. The best of the heavier types continue to make 380-400c/kg. The Rs remain in a range of 360-385c/kg, with the Os making €345-360c/kg. Prices for P-grade cows vary from 320c/kg to 334c/kg

IFA president John Bryan said there would be a very angry response on the ground if meat processors made any attempt to use the events of the last week against farmers on cattle prices.

"The market is stable and despite some negative talk among agents, there is no basis whatsoever for any pressure on cattle prices," Mr Bryan said.

Meanwhile, trade in Britain remained firm with strong demand for steak cuts evident, particularly for fillets. At retail level, fresh beef sales are reportedly unaffected by the burger crisis. Overall, trade continued to be helped by ongoing tight supplies.

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According to Bord Bia, prices from the AHDB increased slightly during the past week, with GB R4L grade steers averaging 373.4p/kg deadweight (equivalent to 466c/kg including VAT deadweight) for the week ending January 12. Demand in beef in Britain has been helped by the cold snap which has taken hold there since late last week.

On the continent, trade was mixed across most of the key markets, with prices reflecting this pattern. Trade is being helped somewhat by ongoing tight supplies across key export markets.

Live cattle exports from Ireland totalled just over 160,000hd last year. This represented a 25pc decline on 2011 shipments, when almost 215,000 cattle were exported.

Even more dramatically, last year's export levels represent a decline of more than 50pc when compared to 2010, when the highest live exports in recent years were recorded. In that year, some 340,000hd were exported live, almost half of which were calves.

Exports of calves experienced the most dramatic decline in 2012, falling by 57pc to just over 38,000 head. Shipments of weanlings and store cattle were collectively 14pc lower than 2011.

The main reason behind the decline in calf shipments was the strong increase in Irish calf prices, which left these animals less price-competitive than in previous years.

Principle destinations for Irish calves include the Netherlands and Belgium, although in 2012 they recorded declines of 56pc and 68pc respectively in export volumes.

We are likely to see some recovery in calf exports to that market, particularly if prices remain below last year's levels.

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