Martin Coughlan: The beef lords giveth and the beef lords also taketh away

Stock Photo. Picture: PA Photo/Chris Bacon
Stock Photo. Picture: PA Photo/Chris Bacon
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

A lot is being made in some quarters about the fact that many of those with cattle to kill are experiencing delays in getting their stock away. There can be no doubting there are delays with factories appearing to continue to prioritise younger stock or those in danger of going over age.

One agent told me: "I'm telling lads that if a bullock is coming on age, I will try to get him in a quick as possible. If he's over-age today he'll still be over-age next week".

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That's not a whole lot of consolation especially as the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

However, the reality is numbers are moving - 37,700 cattle were killed last week.

Outside of agreements reached on pricing between individual beef plants and the last of the beef protesters, €3.45/kg and €3.55/kg are the established base prices for bullocks and heifers.

A few numbers are going through at prices above these figures but they are few. The question is whether these quotes will hold. The reality has to be that with numbers strong, ground conditions becoming less favourable and Brexit feeding a fear factor pressure on those base prices looks certain to grow.

Quotes for cows remain stable with Rs around the €3.00-3.10/kg mark, Os on €2.90/kg with better P's making €2.80/kg. Quotes for young bulls, where available continue to see U grades no better than €3.50/kg Rs €3.40/kg and Os €3.20/kg.

Weight limits are back. While they never truly left us where bulls were concerned, bullocks and heifers are now being pulled.

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Bord Bia figures for the first six months of this year show both steers and heifers are heavier than for the same period in 2018.

With a great grass growing season behind us, it's fair to assume average weights for the second half of the year will also be well up on 2018.

Penalties seem to be coming in around the 420kg mark with a scaled regime from 10c/kg and up. This is one area that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible in any future farmer-factory discussions.

Those penalties apply across the entire carcase weight - not just the kilos above the cut-off. Be sure to check all the details on ages and weights when making the deal.

Branded produce

The weights issue does beggar the question: are we breeding the wrong type of stock. The traditional perception of the successful cattle farmer was the one with fields and sheds full of top-quality continentals - top grading stock, but also heavier when matured than the more traditional breeds.

Irish processors have yet to develop branded Charolais or Limousin products as has been done for Angus and Hereford.

Another issue that will become more relevant will be the protection of Ireland's reputation for grass-raised beef. Intensive feeding of concentrates doesn't fit with that picture.

Meanwhile, other reports indicate that some with stock over 30 months are being quoted at a lesser base price than those with younger animals. In effect, this means that those bonuses achieved for older cattle as a result of the protests are being wiped out.

It's a real case of the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

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