Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Beef sector warnings as live export trade collapses

Exports down by 30,000 head on 2015 leads to fears of a perfect storm over next 12 months

Live shipping exports
Live shipping exports
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Live exports have slumped as the combined impact of a weaker sterling, sluggish demand on the Continent, and a lack of progress on opening the Turkish market hit the trade.

Numbers are down by over 20pc since the start of 2016, but the decline has accelerated in the second quarter with a drop of more than 30pc in recent weeks.

It has resulted in nearly 30,000 fewer animals being exported in 2016 compared to 2015, with the exports to Britain down by 70pc, and trade with the North back by 1,000hd per week.

Exports outside of Europe have dried up completely, and live exporters that bought thousands of light stores in anticipation of the opening of the Turkish market are worried that delays will result in the weanlings missing the specifications required for this market.

"We were told that the market would be open by the first week in May. A lot of exporters have hundreds of animals waiting in yards that are now in danger of being too old or heavy to meet the buyer's requirements," said one source.

Expectations had been raised within the industry about the opportunity in Turkey when French stock were excluded from the burgeoning market this year.

However, France has subsequently become a bigger competitor in traditional Irish markets in Italy and Spain, as it looks for new markets for the 120,000hd that it sold into the Turkish market last year.

"At this rate, 2017 could see Irish cattle supplies reach their highest levels for more than a decade," said Bord Bia's beef analyst, Joe Burke.

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"If Britain votes to stay in the EU, and the pound strengthened again it would help," he added.

While the Tunisian market opened briefly for Irish stock last year, exporters are not optimistic about securing any orders from north Africa while international oil prices remain depressed.


While prices have strengthened at the factories and marts this week, farmers fear that a perfect storm is looming when an additional 50,000 head of stock hit the market over the coming months, and the additional 100,000 calf births from 2015 begin to filter through.

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan has described the situation as "precarious" and added that the "need for live exports has never been greater".

Cull cows supplies from the dairy herd have also subdued demand on the Continent, with Italian culls up by 30pc, while culls in Britain are up by over 10pc as the dairy crisis deepens.

As a result, Italian U grade prices have slipped to the point where they are just 15c/kg ahead of Irish returns.

There are also concerns that the Turkish market will be no silver bullet, as buyers there are looking for weanlings that are already in demand among Irish farmers.

"Weanlings weighing less than 300kg and under 12 months of age are already a strong seller and the 21-day holding requirements are also problematic," said the ICSA's Mr Phelan.

Referring to the 30pc drop in dairy calves to the Netherlands, Mr Phelan said that it was crucial that as many dairy calves as possible were exported.

"Extra output, far from being a panacea, is only likely to add fuel to fire," he said.

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