Farm Ireland

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Cattle prices slump as farmers offload stock

Sharp hike in cull cow slaughter figures as drought poses severe problems across all farm sectors

The continuing drought is causing pressure for farmers
The continuing drought is causing pressure for farmers

Martin Coughlan and Claire Fox

Cattle prices have taken a serious hit in the marts and factories this week as farmers with parched fields and tight grass supplies continue to offload stock.

The continuing drought is causing severe problems for both livestock farmers and cereal growers, and there is little chance of respite as Met Éireann has forecast another week of searing temperatures.

Store cattle took the sharpest fall in the sales rings, with plainer quality bullocks falling by €80-100/hd over the last three weeks.

Factory quotes are also back 10c/kg this week or around €35/hd, with the factories quoting €4.00-4.05/kg for bullocks, and €4.10-4.15 for heifers.

Factory buyers attributed the latest cut in cattle prices to a surge in cull cow numbers, with a sharp hike in the supply of stock being offloaded by milk suppliers.

This trend is borne out by Department of Agriculture data. Provisional figures for last week suggest that the number of cows slaughtered was close to 9,000hd. This is almost 1,300hd up on the same week last year.

Factory agents maintain that some farmers are selling cows no matter what the price.

"We agreed to take 16 cows from one farmer, but when we got there he wanted us to take 18 more," one buyer told the Farming Independent.

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Reacting to the latest factory price cuts, IFA president Joe Healy accused the meat processors of exploiting the drought.

Mr Healy said that the factories had pulled prices by 20c/kg over the last month, or around €80/hd, and he called on Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to intervene and halt the price cuts.

Glanbia claimed this week that milk supplies were holding close to last year's levels despite the recent collapse in grass growth. However, Kerry said supplies were 4pc down on the year to date.

A Glanbia spokesman said farmers were currently maintaining milk supply by combinations of increased in-parlour feeding, grazing second-cut silage ground, feeding straights such as soya hulls, and using baled silage as a buffer feed.

Grass growth has declined to around 20-30kgs/DM/ha/day during the past week in many areas and, on average, growth is running at less than 40pc of demand.


With Met Éireann forecasting temperatures of 20C-28C for the remainder of the week, grass growth is unlikely to improve in the short-term.

Dairy processors are putting drought assistance teams and farmer helplines in place for suppliers with fodder difficulties.

The collapse in grass supplies has driven up the cost of fodder, with up to €4/bale being reported for small square bales of hay, while €30/bale is being paid for 4x4 bales.

As reported by the Farming Independent last week, barley straw is being forward purchased by livestock farmers at €20/bale.

However, Michael Hennessy of Teagasc has predicted that the straw availability this year will be back 20-25pc, with supplies down by the equivalent of around 1.5 million 4x4 bales.

The shortage of grass has also resulted in dairy farmers looking to buy standing winter barley and wheat crops for whole cropping. The prices being offered appear to range from €850/ac to €950/ac.

Meanwhile, serious concern has been expressed for late-sown cereal crops, with yields in many cases expected to be decimated by a combination of late sowing and the drought.

Potato yields are also expected to take a serious hit, especially crops that are not being irrigated.

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