Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

How beef prices year are performing marginally better than 2016


Joe Burke

Irish cattle supplies have risen by more than 63,000 head, or 5.7pc. This development was well-anticipated at the beginning of 2017 as a result of growing calf registrations along with relatively low live exports in recent years.

Prime cattle throughput has increased strongly, with 37,000 additional steers (+9pc), along with 18,000 extra heifers (+6pc). Meanwhile, cow slaughterings are also 17,000 head higher (+7pc), although young bull production has fallen by 10,000 head (-10pc).

The impact of higher cattle supplies (+5.7pc) this year has been partly offset by a decline in carcase weights.

Up to the end of August, carcase weights are running 5.5kg lighter (-1.6pc), on average, than during the same period in 2016.

This trend is attributable to the growing proportion of dairy-bred animals and crosses of traditional breeds (Angus and Hereford) within the national herd.

Recent analysis of the Department of Agriculture's AIM (Animal Identification and Movements) database suggests that strong cattle supplies are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

On July 1, the number of male cattle aged between 24 and 36 months (the majority of which were born in spring 2015) showed an increase of over 30,000 head.

Similarly, looking at female beef-bred cattle (thereby excluding replacement dairy heifers), numbers in this age category also increased by more than 30,000 head.

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Fast forward to 2018, national slaughterings are likely to increase further, given the growth that is evident in male cattle and beef-bred females within the 12-24 month age category.

Again, this rise in animal numbers is mainly attributable to higher calf registrations, combined with lower live exports during 2016.

Price performance

Notwithstanding the higher cattle supplies, combined with market uncertainty surrounding Brexit, to date in 2017 Irish cattle prices have performed slightly better than the previous year.

Most recently, (week ending September 9), the Irish R3 steer price averaged €3.74/kg (excl VAT), while the equivalent UK price was €4.10/kg (£3.82/kg). In sterling terms, UK cattle prices have risen to their highest level in over two years, although exchange rate movements have eroded most of the resulting benefit for Irish beef exporters.

Across continental Europe, producer prices for R3 young bulls are averaging €3.78/kg, which represents a steady recovery in the EU market situation over recent months. For example, R grade young bull prices are currently €3.82 in France, €3.92 in Germany, €4.01/kg in Italy and €3.83/kg in Spain.

Key export markets

Trade statistics for the first half of this year confirm the higher volumes processed, with Irish beef exports growing by approximately 4pc. The UK market remains the principal destination for Irish beef, and accounted for 54pc of shipments during this period.

Continental Europe comprised approximately 41pc of beef exports, although there was some shift recorded in the volumes sent to the different member states.

Exports to some major European markets: France, the Netherlands and Sweden were seen to decline slightly, although trade has recovered into the likes of Italy (+2pc), Spain (+10pc) and Portugal (+14pc).

Irish beef exports into international markets have increased dramatically (+80pc) to date this year, and this trade relates primarily to manufacturing beef products. Non-EU markets accounted for 5pc of total exports (excluding offal), reaching almost 13,000 tonnes.

There was a strong uplift in Irish exports into the Philippines (+160pc), Hong Kong (+50pc) and Vietnam, as well as Israel and Ghana.

The beef sector remains optimistic about the potential opening of the Chinese market for Irish beef, following an extensive inspection visit by the Chinese Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) in recent weeks.

Live exports recover

Live exports have been performing strongly this year, following a number of quiet years in the livestock shipping sector.

Up to the beginning of September, cattle exports have totalled over 155,000 head, which represents an increase of 48pc on the last year's levels.

Higher calf exports have been an important contributing factor, with over 100,000 calves sent out over the spring months. The principal markets for Irish calves are the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and France.

There have also been some improvements recorded in exports to Italy, Northern Ireland and Britain.

The Irish live export sector also has a renewed focus on international markets.

Following the successful shipment of almost 20,000 young bulls to Turkey in late 2016, a similar quantity have been sent so far this year. Turkish importers are also focused on Irish heifers for breeding purposes.

A number of other consignments have also been completed to markets outside Europe, including to Libya and Russia.

Joe Burke is Beef and Livestock Sector Manager with Bord Bia

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