Beef trade: Agents are 'very keen' for cattle
In the ongoing cattle game between factories and farmers, it has become obvious even to the most casual observer that things have ratcheted up several gears over the last couple of weeks.
On the surface, as last week closed, the general run of bullock base prices was €4.15/kg, with heifers at €4.25/kg. Bulls under 24 months saw U-grades at €4.25/kg with Rs on €4.10-4.15/kg with Os at €3.95-4.05/kg. The base price for under-16-month bulls was generally set at €4.10/kg, with €4.15/kg reported as being offered in "exceptional circumstances".
Cull cow prices had also sweetened last week, with U-grades reported as having made as high as €4.00/kg, with the top of the Rs on €3.90-3.80/kg, while the O-grade cow saw €3.70-3.50/kg.
P-grades tend to be a moveable feast, with the better ones often tied to lower-quality O-grades; as of last week they too had moved up to €3.45/kg and €3.50/kg on occasion.
Farmers are reporting that factory agents continue to be very keen to buy. And while they often do not initially quote much above the official party line, when it comes down to actually buying, 5-10c/kg more has been found to secure the deal - while also making sure that the opposition are not invited to quote.
It's all a bit like the swan swimming up the river, all poise and grace on the surface while paddling furiously underneath just to stay going.
As factory prices edge upwards I had one finisher phone me on a recent meal price increase of €15/tonne that he claimed had wiped out several months' worth of positive news on the beef price front.
"It's taken months to get 20c/kg on the factory price of beef but the co-ops and millers can stick €15/tonne on feed and there's not a word about it," he said.
Northern Ireland's Livestock and Meat Commission reports that the UK Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, is considering a ban on the live export of animals for slaughter after Brexit. Apparently this is to help the UK become a world leader in animal welfare.
"The environment secretary has asked industry experts and campaigners to submit evidence on the process to a consultation recently released by DEFRA, with 'all options' being considered. As well as a ban on exports for direct slaughter the UK government wishes to consider more broadly what improvements could be made to the way animals are transported."
During 2017 8,915 cattle were exported from the North to the Republic for direct slaughter.
"Any ban or disruption to the live export of cattle out of NI will act as a barrier to trade and be detrimental for NI," the commission says.
I think the Brits have just realised they are not in a good place to supply their population with beef and this is a first desperate measure to offset potential Brexit shortages.
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