Farm Ireland

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Marts are packed but buyers are hard to find


Cattle arriving to Carrick on Suir Mart. Picture: Pat Moore
Cattle arriving to Carrick on Suir Mart. Picture: Pat Moore
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

Fear of what may lie ahead as regards the continuing drought and fodder shortages is beginning to stalk the thinking of the farming community. The effects of this fear became evident at marts last week where some with cattle to sell appeared to heave a sigh of relief as the hammer finally fell.

Despite taking possibly up to a €100/hd hit when comparing prices to three weeks ago, mart managers noted a general acceptance from sellers that in this most extraordinary of years, you do what is in the best long-term interest of your overall business.

The other striking thing from last week was the number of marts who reported big turnouts of farmers despite actual numbers of stock not being above average for the time of year. The reason for these numbers is that in time of crisis, if you're a farmer in Dingle in Kerry or Ballymahon in Longford, where do go for the latest news, views and opinions? Your local mart.

In my mini mart reports I picked out specific examples of where I think buyers, while possibly under pressure for grass themselves, continue to give a very fair price for stock. Down in Corrin in Cork, a batch of ten 540kg Friesian bullocks together sold for €1.71/kg which is more or less bang on the overall national average last week for Friesians in our 500-599kg section of our ringside table.

Up in Ballinrobe in west Mayo, your better conformation bullock cracked on well last week, as shown by 430kg Charolais bullocks who made €2.60/kg, while in the heifer ring, a 405kg Limousin X raised the flag to €2.84/kg.

Indeed, John O'Hanlon of Ballymahon mart noted that his 400-500kg bullock was actually up 3-6c/kg last week. That left their Ballymahon average price at €2.28/kg, over half way between the overall ringside average for this weight of €2.01/kg and the Ringside's top quarter average of €2.47/kg. Also of note, both those Ringside averages are up 3c and 7c respectively on two weeks ago, which also mirrors Mr O'Hanlon's figures.

The reality, however, is that in many instances, those with cattle to sell are holding back because sellers realise buyers have become scarce due to the drought.

This reduction in numbers last week helped the store trade from 400-599kg recover in part some of those severe losses suffered in recent weeks. This was not the case in the 600kg+ section of the bullock table where overall averages slid by 2-5c/kg again last week. That brings the cumulative fall in mart prices for this section to 16c/kg in four weeks, that's €96/hd. The difference of course is that the price falls at this end of the weight scale are the result of continuing factory price pulls rather than worries over fodder or grass.

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The message seems to be that while things are tight on the grass and fodder front, there may be a bit more leeway on cattle farms as opposed to their dairy farm cousins - and this leeway is being translated into buyers continuing to source the cattle they need at reduced, but in the circumstances fair, prices. As Mr O'Hanlon and other managers I spoke to last weekend commented, the most important thing is cattle continue to get sold.

Calculating cattle prices movements is one way of accessing market conditions, however calculating how much damage will end up being done to the actual farm incomes because of this latest "weather event" is going to a far more complicated sum to calculate.

Marts Roundup

1 Ballymahon

Despite factory and grass pressures, and some mart weight sections seeing their prices getting squeezed, John O’Hanlon was upbeat. “It’s tough and liable to get tougher but the most important thing is cattle are getting sold,” John said. That said, bullocks in general held well here, with average prices for the 400-500kg animal coming in at €2.28/kg, while the 500-600kg bullock averaged €2.15/kg. Average figures for lighter heifers, however, showed them to be back 20c/kg to €2.37/kg, while 600kg+ heifers recovered lost ground from last week, with the tops making €2.20-2.25/kg.

2 Ballinrobe

Numbers here continue to ease off, which is traditional come midsummer, and while many eastern marts have seen prices pressurised by falling factory prices, influxes of dairy stock and weather concerns, the story here was one of quality continuing to win out. In the bullock ring, among the top movers were a 585kg Aberdeen Angus who sold for €2.11/kg, a 430kg Charolais who made €2.60/kg and 345kg Limousin at €2.61/kg. On the heifer side you had a 405kg LimousinX at €2.84/kg, a 505kg Charolais at €2.47/kg, while four 299kg Angus made €2.73/kg.

3 Dingle

Neilus McAuliffe commented that while his sale was small, as would be expected at this time of year, the crowd was surprisingly big as farmers came to chew over weather, fodder and trade prospects for the rest of the year. On the prices front bullocks made up to €2/kg, while heifer prices saw 311kg Angus make close to the €2/kg mark at €600/hd. A batch of 370kg Hereford heifers following on clinched €1.90/kg.

4 Corrin

Trade for bullocks was reported as steady here. I have picked out a few prices from the sheets that may ask some questions but also illustrate that despite the weather etc there are those in the trade that are still very confident. The stand-out example for me was the batch of ten 540kg Friesians bullocks that went under the hammer at €925/hd or €1.71/kg. Compare those just in pure cost terms with the five 482kg Limousins who made €1,130 or €2.34/kg. And finally how do either compare to the two 650kg Limousins at €1,375/hd? It’s not all bad news

5 Balla

It was a similar story here: smaller numbers but a trade that held fairly steady. 300-400kg bullocks averaged €2.11/kg with an April 2017-born 385kg Charolais burning the opposition and hitting the top price of €2.87/kg. In the 400-500kg bullock section the top price was €2.67/kg, again a Charolais this time 450kg, as average prices for this weight division settled at €2.33/kg. In the heifer ring those under 400kg averaged €2.14/kg with the 400-500kg animal coming in at €2.22/kg on average. Heavier 500kg+ heifers saw an April 2015-born 765kg Charolais go under the hammer at €2.56/kg – that’s €1,590 when you’re writing the cheque.

6 Ballinasloe

This too was a smaller sale, with the trade seeing what were described as “young sweet cattle” in demand, while plainer older lots were harder sold. Among the bullocks prices averaged €2.50/kg, with one of those younger sweeter animals, a 280kg Limousin, setting the bar at that €3.00/kg. Among the heifers prices averaged €2.27/kg, with the top price of €2.61kg going to a 360kg Limousin. Cull cows sold from €880-1,410/hd.


7 Baltinglass

Again this was a smaller sale but with an almost 100pc clearance. Yet again all the conversation was on the weather and its effect on grass growth and how both factory and mart prices continue to be affected. Sample prices here among the bullocks included a 750kg Angus who sold for €1,150, a 665kg Limousin at €1,380, while a 390kg Limousin wasn’t letting the side down at €875.

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