The mart trade over the last week has seen prices move upwards as demand continues to outstrip supply.
Reports from across the country indicate that prices for good continental bullocks are now generally working off of a base of €2.10-2.15/kg, compared to €1.90-2.00/kg from a few weeks ago.
And at the top end of the market, better types have reached €2.50/kg in some circumstances.
The better Angus and Hereford bullock has also moved up in price from €1.80-1.90/kg to around €2.00-2.10/kg in places.
Those rising Angus and Hereford prices are forcing some feedlots to reappraise their budgets.
“Up until now our feedlot buyers were not going beyond €1.80-190/kg for black Pollys. Now they’re under pressure and are moving to €2/kg,” said Maurice Brosnan of Gortatlea Mart in Kerry.
As the tide rises, the Friesian bullock has also seen his price lift. For example, the majority of your 400-550kg black and whites in Kilkenny last week averaged €1.65-1.85/kg, with some better-made lighter Friesians falling just short of €2.10/kg.
On the heifer side, continentals are selling for an average of €2.00-2.35/kg, with Hereford and Angus making €1.90-2.05/kg.
Plainer stock, as always, lag behind in the price stakes but, as evidenced by the averages for those Friesians in Kilkenny, their price is also moving upwards.
The trend that has seen sales being dominated by lighter weights appears to be continuing. Gerry Finnerty of Ennis said he has moved more weanling heifers than anything else since the lockdown began.
There is evidence, however, that this is changing, particularly with the expansion of online selling.
Carnaross Mart in Meath was among the first to adopt this new approach.
And despite a certain amount of initial scepticism among farmers and other marts as to how viable the system might be, the technology has now expanded rapidly to other sales rings. These include Manorhamilton in Leitrim, Carnew in Wicklow and Kilmallock in Limerick.
Others with plans to go down this road as early as this week include Dowra in Leitrim and Delvin in Westmeath.
The reason why marts are turning their backs on the various tender /weigh/sell models is very simple. As a rule they are slow and cumbersome to operate, meaning that it’s very difficult to get in the numbers .
Plus once a buyer enters a price, he has no option to advance his initial bid should he fall short of what is required to secure a purchase.
The online model by comparison sees ‘live pricing’ as bidders contest each lot.
This also means that once the virtual hammer falls, the seller can be more confident that he has achieved a more realistic, immediate market price.
The speed of online selling also brings it closer to the reality of an actual live sale, meaning that there is real potential to have far bigger numbers going through this system than, for example, a tender sale.
David Quinn of Carnew Mart says the online sale is clearing stock at a rate of about 70pc of what he’d expect in an hour of normal trading.
“It’s not as fast as the real thing, but it’s quick enough and it’s way ahead of tendering.”
Will online selling continue once the Covid crisis is past?
“I can see it operating hand in-hand with the traditional sales system. But marts would probably have to employ extra staff,” he said.
Finally, an additional problem with the tendering system is the lack of transparency.
An auctioneer gave me the example of the farmer who having failed at one sale to secure the batch of cattle he was interested in, returned the following week and spying similar stock lifted his tendered bid by €80/hd.
“Get ’em? Course he got ’em. He was €50/hd better than the next man because he had no idea what the next man was thinking,” my source told me.