Beef Prices: Agents are hoovering up all the stock they can get

Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

WITH the Cheltenham Gold Cup imminent I was hoping to use a racing analogy this week to add a bit of colour to the factory report.

Unfortunately the latest news indicates that the best that can be said is that the trade is proceeding at a steady trot - not quite with a Cotswolds' canter.

Prices for steers remain fixed between €3.95-400/kg with heifers on €4.05-4.10/kg with one report that €4.15/kg was paid by a western plant yesterday morning for in-spec stock.

While the trade does not appear to have picked up speed, those standing closest to it note that where cattle are coming on the market local factory men are moving quickly to hoover them up, with little or nothing being left behind.

Probably the best gauge of the Irish factory trade is the cull cow; if she's falling, the whole business sits up and takes notice. She's not falling - in actual fact her price seems to be remaining strong.

U grades are reported as being at €3.80-3.85/kg, with Rs on €3.60-3.75/kg, Os continue on €3.40-3.45, while P grades range from €3.00-3.30/kg.

In the real world of business the absolutes in relation to price often become blurred when farmer and factory come to hammering out the specifics.

For example some P grade cows were hung up last week at €3.40/kg as they made up the numbers on loads of Os.

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It's the same story with the bull trade. I've heard of R grade bulls making up to €4.00-4.05/kg because they helped bring up the numbers on a deal that saw a majority of U grades going up the line.

In general, however, R grades were trading last week at €3.90-3.95/kg with a shake of €4.00/kg about here and there.

U grades, I'm told, have hit €4.10/kg, but in general their price is running from €4.00-4.05/kg. O grade bulls are now seeing flat prices of €3.80/kg as their price like everything else on the bull side gradually strengthens.

Numbers game

The short story is that while numbers continue to remain strong at 36,932, the factories are making no secret of the fact they want all they can get.

On the price front one farmer/agent said,"If you want a higher price you have to stick your neck out". On that point men are "sticking their necks out" and deals are being done.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that factories were looking after their contract and feedlot suppliers and that situation continues as their numbers give them greater leverage.

On the numbers issue, some believe we may be coming to the end of this year's winter supply of Friesian bulls, as a majority of those remaining run up against their 24-month cut off date.

The numbers game will continue, but may gradually swing in favour of the farmer for the simple reason you can only kill an animal once.

Monaghan farmer Edmund Graham, who is the ICSA's beef chair, highlighted the food shortages that came with the recent snow.

"Once the supermarket shelves had been emptied people's minds got focused on food. They may have learned again to respect where it comes from," he said.

It's a point that should be taken up when discussions start on the CAP budget.

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