Over 30-month cattle still a hard sell despite the beef deal

Value in Tullow: Charolais heifers, April 2019 at 283Kg sold for €630 each
Value in Tullow: Charolais heifers, April 2019 at 283Kg sold for €630 each
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

Like the English rugby team, Irish beef finishers are getting hammered as they feel the weight and strength of the opposition push them back in the scrum.

And a scrum is what it is at present if you want to get stock killed. While it is easiest to target the factories as being the villains, speaking with those in the trade you see a level of frustration that extends beyond factory pricing.

A general feeling of stress and helplessness comes across throughout the beef farming community.

Quotes yesterday remained fixed at €3.45/kg for bullocks, with heifers on €3.50-3.55/kg.

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Cull cows are coming under pressure with prices in some places 5-10c/kg less at €2.95-2.90/kg. However, €3/kg is still possible, if your agent is good enough. Bull prices continue to tighten.

I have been trying to ascertain whether the additional bonus payments gained as a result of the blockades are of any real value in the marketplace.

From where I sit any adjustment that offers the potential of improving factory payments to farmers has to be a plus.

However, one fattener offered a different assessment to how he saw the game between farmers and factories playing out around these new price incentives.

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"China is a real market, a valuable market to be supplied. But the Chinese will only take under-30-month stock. So those over-30-month bonuses are valueless to farmers when it comes to supplying that market."

He felt the addition of those extra payments on the grid may have tempted some to let their cattle "lie on", thus ruling them out of China.

But what do we know of the details of factory contracts? Did it not come as a major surprise when Lidl announced in August that they had no problems accepting Irish beef up to 36 months once it was Bord Bia quality assured?

However, my adversary said that with the numbers of under-30-month stock starting to reduce as the year moves on, factories will be forced to handle more of those older animals. "Sounds good," I said.

"I wasn't finished," he growled. Any increase in base price will only come in the shorter term for under-30-month stock with the possibility of a separate grid for those older cattle at a lower base lurking in the background, he speculated.

"And don't forget the weight limits," he smiled.

And just to make the age point really stick he drew my attention to the fact that 2017-born bullocks in the marts have been regularly making up to €150/hd less when compared to an equivalent 2018- born animal - all down to the perception that factories have very limited markets for stock over 36 months.

All of this is pure speculation of course. What it really comes down to is whether the numbers slacken. Although last week was a short week, the kill still reached 34,400.

On that basis, there appears to be no immediate prospect of reducing numbers or stress.

Indo Farming

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