Farm Ireland

Sunday 27 May 2018

Reality bites as January blues grip beef trade

23/1/2018 Athenry Mart .Weight 485K, DOB 2/8/16, Breed SIX, Sex Bullock, Price €1130
Photo Brian Farrell
23/1/2018 Athenry Mart .Weight 485K, DOB 2/8/16, Breed SIX, Sex Bullock, Price €1130 Photo Brian Farrell
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

A cattleman I know used the phrase "blue January" to describe the trade at his local mart.

It is also a phrase that could be used to describe how the factory trade has performed since we turned into the New Year.

Quotes this week are in the main around €3.95/kg for bullocks and €4.05/kg for heifers.

That's 15-20c/kg ahead of where they were this time last year. It's a lot of money, €55-74/hd on a 370kg carcase, but the reality is winter finishers got skinned alive for the first three months of last winter with many carrying feed bills forward for much of 2017.

And the optimism that prevailed in December when prices pushed upwards to €4.10-€4.20/kg for bullocks and heifers has now evaporated.

There are also reports of some factory agents attempting to talk prices back another 5c/kg to €3.90/kg for bullocks and heifers €4.00/kg.

One certainty is that at some stage this winter's meal bills will arrive.

This is when the whole set up inside the farm gate becomes a pressure cooker if factory prices aren't sufficient to cover costs.

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The farmer, though, has no choice but to continue to shovel more feed and more costs into cattle in the hope that things will improve or "something might turn up".

And so it goes on. The pressure builds; the overdraft comes up to the red line; shop accounts go unpaid. If you sell the cattle you lose money; if you keep feeding you are losing money; the bank manger won't extend your facilities.

The only thing that keeps many farmers going are the innocent smiles and laughter of their children.

I write this partly from my own experience and also from fielding phone calls recently from beef farmers who are feeling disillusioned with their lives and the fact that all they ever seem to do is struggle. As one man said to me "There's no joy in life, it's been sucked out of me".

On a more positive note, I have had reports that one or two plants that were killing four days have returned to working five. Maybe that's an indication that we're at the bottom of the cycle and the only way is up?

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