Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Early cattle volumes set to ease beef price pressures

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

High volumes of cattle coming through the factory gates early may help ease the concerns over price pressure later this year, say industry sources.

An extra 100,000 cattle have been forecast this year with the rise in the dairy herd; however, lighter carcase weights plus a resurgence in exports have helped alleviate some of the pressure.

So far this year, there have been just over 803,000 animals sent for slaughter - a rise of 36,600 on last year.

Kepak's procurement manager, Jonathan Forbes, said it had been a good spring for cattle, with strong numbers of fit animals coming through the factory gates.

"I think the fear of the bigger number in the back end could be alleviated if guys keep marketing their cattle over the next six- or eight-week period. Cattle are coming in very fit for slaughter," he said.

"We are seeing decent kills now and I think the more even the kill remains throughout the year, it gives us a greater opportunity to service customers better and keep the market pretty even."

At the nutrition discussions at the Keenan open day in Borris, Co Carlow, to show their new Vertical Auger diet feeder, Mr Forbes warned that issues over antibiotic usage in beef have been raised in their discussions with supermarkets.

He said tightening of antibiotic usage was coming down the tracks. "Beef is not at serious threat here, as we are at a really good level already," he said. "We have a survey done on our own supply base and we think it is in the late 90s in terms of what animals are not treated. They have policies now in terms of responsible usage," he said. "It is coming down the tracks."

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On the Brexit issue, Mr Forbes was positive and highlighted that he still believes Irish beef is a natural fit for the UK market.

Mr Forbes said despite much talk of the dairy sector taking over from the sucklers, he believes the rearers have moved on in terms of efficiency, with good returns being delivered from under-16-month bull beef.

"We have commitments with suppliers for Continental-bred cattle and we appreciate the quality of our suckler herd even more so when we see the lower-quality end of the beef coming from the dairy herd," he said. "I think that is really what opens our eyes to the real quality of our suckler herd."

Carcase weights have been down this year, with a rise in animals coming through for beef from the expanding dairy herd.

"There is a bottom end of animals coming from the dairy herd that are definitely missing the spec," he said. "They are not working out well for guys that are producing them, profit-wise."

He said genetic improvement was vital in this area with some calf-to-beef systems being hard hit with poor crosses from the dairy sector.

The IFA's livestock chair, Angus Woods, said lighter carcase weights, strong live exports and a drop in slaughterings in the UK provide favourable conditions for the beef trade.

He said supplies in Britain were back 10pc with a rise of 6c/kg in the last week.

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