Farm Ireland
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Friday 25 May 2018

Beef prices take refuge on higher ground

Gort Mart. Lot Number 35, Weight 390K Avg, DOB 14/4/17 to 23/5/17, Sex Male, Price €1000
Photo Brian Farrell
Gort Mart. Lot Number 35, Weight 390K Avg, DOB 14/4/17 to 23/5/17, Sex Male, Price €1000 Photo Brian Farrell
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

"It's hard to get a handle on it, but they're not any less". That brief summary of where factory beef prices were at yesterday morning was given to me by a factory agent, who occasionally has a foot in more than one plant.

After moving on to higher ground early last week, factory prices seem to have settled with little in the way of meaningful movement being reported as of yesterday morning. Bullocks continue to be quoted at €4.00-4.05/kg with a shake of €4.10/kg being paid here and there, I'm told depending on quality and numbers.

Heifers do seem possibly a little better with "some" €4.20/kg reported as being "a maybe". Such is the terminology used when you're being told something while not being told it at the same time. The general quote for heifers, however, remains at €4.15/kg.

While prices may only be pushing up slowly, there is at least some consolation in knowing that if you've heavy or overage bullocks, I'm told they have become sought after. I know that last sentence won't please those of you who keep rigidly to producing in-spec beef, but as we all know, when factories want beef, the in-spec rulebook tends to go out the window.

And that is the situation; at present factories want your cattle. The cull cow trade which puts a floor under the whole farm-to-factory trade remains, for the umpteenth week, rock solid. If the cull cow price was a concrete floor, you wouldn't be able to crack it at present with kangoo much less a sledge.

R grade cows continue on €3.60-3.80/kg with Os on €3.40-3.60/kg. The better P grade continues to be able to match the bottom of the O grades on price, resulting in an overall spread for Ps from €3.20-3.40/kg. Poorer quality with less cover do fall further back. Bull prices also remain largely stable with bulls up to 24 months making in the range of €4.15/kg for Us back to €3.90-4.00/kg for Os with R grades operating around €4.05-4.10/kg. Under 16 month bulls see a base of €4.05/kg with €4.10/kg reported in places.

With the expansion of factory and contract feed lots, those at the processing end now have a far better idea of what it takes to produce beef inside the farm gate. And this, I fear, can be a double-edged sword for the ordinary farmer. Factory feedlots have the huge advantage of scale. They can squeeze everyone, the original seller, the feed merchant, the haulier, the vet, everyone. With those figures, they can decide what your production costs should be, and what you can, in their eyes, afford to take when selling.

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