What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago factory prices for bullocks and heifers were floating between €3.40-3.45/kg, with only tentative signs that a lift was in the offing.
Today bullocks and heifers are both on €3.50-3.55/kg. While some plants yesterday continued to quote €3.45/kg for both, the game has moved on. And that’s only half the story.
After weeks of low kills, typically 25-26,000, factories are at last beginning to feel the pinch. Numbers now appear to be the governing factor when negotiating a price.
Having managed the marketplace well and dampened farmer expectations for last week, those low kill numbers at last began to force prices across the whole spectrum upward.
Prior to this, cull cow prices had for two weeks in a row been the only strong performer, moving up by around 20-25c/kg.
Bullocks are now on a minimum base of €3.50/kg, with heifers on €3.55/kg. More is reported as being possible if both numbers and quality are satisfactory.
Cull cow prices continue their upward trajectory, gaining another 10-20c/kg.
This leaves R-grade cows on €3.00-3.10/kg, with another 5c/kg possible in certain circumstances. O-grades are headed for €2.90/kg and possibly above it if well-fleshed, while your humble hard-milking better P-grade is reported in the €270-2.80/kg ball-park.
Young bulls are also more in demand, with prices for U-grades variously €3.50-3.60/kg, with R-grades €3.40-3.50 and better Os €3.30-3.40/kg.
While factory bullock and heifer prices are not quite there yet, cull cows and young bulls are at levels not seen since before the lockdown.
Emerald Isle Beef Producers, the purchasing group founded by éamon Corley of the Beef Plan Movement, are reported to be sourcing factory-fit bulls and steers for a second shipment of stock by Roundwood Livestock to Algeria.
Their previous endeavour three weeks ago saw 1,080 heavy bulls and bullocks heading to North Africa. Reported delays in some payments at that time did cause concern among suppliers, but it is now understood that all outstanding accounts have been fully credited.
As with any business transaction, it is always wise to establish payment and or credit terms in advance.
This second shipment consisting of 1,100-1,200 heavy cattle will again be weighed at New Ross mart before being transferred to Belview, Waterford’s deep-sea terminal, for loading.
While all this is good news, the spectre of Covid-19 hangs over the entire trade and with 560 confirmed cases reported at 10 meat processing facilities across the country, there has to be a real concern that production will be affected — if it hasn’t already.
The HSE is reported to have sent “outbreak control teams” to each site in the hope of containing the spread of the virus.
This approach contrasts with the decision to suspend production on May 1 at a Dawn Meats boning hall in Kilbeggan when just four cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.
In times of industrial crisis, workers rely on their union to voice their concerns. I am not sure if all killing-line and boning-hall workers are unionised, but I do know that Department staff are.
Department staff appear to be working normally despite those 560 confirmed cases.