Cattle supplies are expected to decline by up to 120,000 head this year in comparison to 2020 levels, says Joe Burke of Bord Bia.
The senior manager of meat and livestock says a number of factors have contributed to this projection including: a particularly strong year for calf exports in 2019; a reduction in young bull finishing, which is likely to push many of them into next year; and “very strong” live exports to Northern Ireland (up 125pc on 2020 levels), which has taken 26,695 animals out of the system.
Speaking at Bord Bia’s webinar for beef farmers Mr Burke said: “Cattle supplies are certainly going to be somewhat tight between now and year end compared to previous years.
“But with younger cattle coming through in the 12-24 month age bracket, we’ve seen an increase of 61,000 in the males and over 22,000 in the beef bred heifers.
“That certainly indicates that in 2022 we’ll see a recovery of production — we’ll see cattle numbers maybe not getting back up to last year’s levels, but certainly being somewhat closer to them.
“But elsewhere around Europe we’re not seeing anywhere near the same level of recovery forecast, so hopefully with import demand prices can remain strong,” he added, highlighting that Germany and France are forecasting beef production declines of around 4pc in 2021.
While Mr Burke noted the strong increase in UK cattle prices (up 23pc to 4.66c/kg for R3 steers compared to mid-April last year), and international cattle prices (Australia up 28pc to 4.18c/kg for steers and Brazil up 39pc to 2.86c/kg for steers compared mid-April 2020), he also said Irish R3 steer price is up 17pc to 4.04c/kg compared to mid-April 2020.
“The UK remains a vital market for Irish beef; in 2020 Irish beef exports to the UK accounted for 46pc of the total.
“The remainder, on average, was sent into other markets where cattle prices are considerably lower, and we don’t necessarily have access to all the customers in the UK market either — there are some customers who have an all-British sourcing policy with regards to beef.
“The Irish R3 steer price we know had a difficult January and February, cattle prices were low even in comparison to the same period in 2020, but we have seen a very strong recovery in recent weeks.
“For the week ending April 24 there was a further increase of 7c/kg in the average Irish R3 steer price, bringing it up to €4.04/kg.
“The market environment is quite competitive when you look across continental Europe relative to the situation in the UK.
“But in Ireland, we have seen a strong recovery and improvement in recent weeks. Cattle prices are certainly getting up there and we’re hearing of base prices of €4.10/kg for steers increasingly being paid, and up to €4.20/kg for heifers — those are back to levels that are a lot more encouraging for beef producers.
“The UK is slightly ahead of us with economic recovery from Covid which will influence the demand for meat. Here consumer spending power is likely depressed due to all the restrictions and we will have to follow that situation closely.”