Beef Prices: Numbers game leaves farmers in a cloud of despondency

  • Last week's kill was 31,809

  • Bullocks are on a base of €3.85/kg, with heifers €3.95/kg

Photo: Gerry Mooney
Photo: Gerry Mooney
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

Strong supply numbers continue to dominate all discussions around factory prices.

Last week's kill was 31,809, just 179 ahead of the same week last year, and 3,061 less than the previous week, which sounds promising.

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But last week was a short week; 31,809 is a serious number given the kill was restricted to just four days.

There is little sign now of a fall-off in supplies that was being predicted a few weeks back.

Men have noticeably withdrawn into themselves as the realisation dawns that the market has once again become very difficult. A cloud of despondency seems to have descended on the trade and those within it.

The bare facts in relation to prices are that bullocks are on a base of €3.85/kg, with heifers €3.95/kg - all plus 12c/kg quality assurance, once the animal qualifies.

Bulls also get squeezed with prices in general 5c/kg down on last week. Under-24-month U grades are trading at €3.80/kg, with Rs on €3.70 and continental O types €3.50-3.60/kg. Friesian O grades are less.

For bulls over 24 month, U grades are getting €3.50/kg, with R grades on €3.40/kg. These prices are not for stock bulls. Under-16-month bulls are operating off €3.80/kg base.

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There has also been a return I'm told to weight limits, with some plants reported as enforcing a 440kg cut-off for both bulls and bullocks.

Cull cows also felt the squeeze, with O grades easing to €3.05-3.10 and P+3s €2.95-3.00/kg. R grades are €3.20-3.30/kg.

The reality is that those cull cow prices represent good value for those dairy farmers who have possibly fed their culls and now see them with a good cover of flesh.

Compared to the man with a big Friesian, Hereford or Angus bullock that grades as an O on the grid at €3.55-€3.72/kg, the dairy farmer isn't doing badly at all.

The announcement that the Department of Agriculture has conducted fresh trials in relation to mechanical grading has raised the hackles of the IFA.

They are concerned that a proposed new lighting and camera system, while appearing more effective, has a deviation of one sixth of a sub grade. Odd they should be concerned given that the machines are licensed by the EU to be only 60pc accurate to begin with.

Since their introduction in 2004 grade calculations are done on the basis, they can be out by one full sub grade and still meet the set standard.

Denis Naughten TD has pointed out in the Dáil that farmers could potentially be losing up to €140/hd as a result of how the EU licensed these machines.

And that's the issue. It is not the lighting or cameras, it's the terms of the license these machines have that has created such frustration.

They can be 40pc wrong and still be right. Tinkering with the lights doesn't change this fact.

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