Farm Ireland

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Live calf exports set to surge as ship awaits the green light

Trade off to a positive start for 2018

Live cattle exports soared 35pc last year to over 196,000 head. Stock image. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
Live cattle exports soared 35pc last year to over 196,000 head. Stock image. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
Trade for calves is expected to be stronger in 2018

Louise Hogan and Martin Ryan

An alternative live export ship to replace the Stena Line vessel Horizon is due to be inspected by officials this week.

The announcement will calm farmer fears that the Horizon's temporary removal would seriously hit vital calf export trade this spring.

Concerns had been raised over the transport of calves in the coming weeks with a large volume from the expanding dairy herd destined for export to Europe.

It comes amid a 'flying' start to the season at the first calf sale of the year at Bandon Co-Op Mart yesterday.

Manager Tom McCarthy described a "very good trade" with farmers and shippers "out of the blocks and raring to go".

Live cattle exports soared 35pc last year to over 196,000 head, while meat exports from the processors hit record levels in 2017 despite uncertainty over Brexit and currency issues.

Yet the live export trade for calves in 2018 is forecast to be even "stronger" than last year, with emerging new markets expected to boost demand, according to one of the country's leading live exporters.

However, farmers have been warned that poor quality calves - such as Angus bulls from Jersey-cross cows and poorly fed young calves - hitting the European market could damage the reputation of Irish exports.

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But farmers are being warned that poor quality calves - Jersey-Angus crossbreds and poorly fed young calves - hitting the market could seriously damage the reputation for Irish calves on the continent to the detriment of the valuable trade.

Exports of calves surged 40pc last year to 101,800hd.

David Scallan, manager of the Wicklow Calf Company, expects increased numbers of calves to go for export this year following on the back of a strong 2017. "We are presently in negotiations on opening new markets in the Baltic states," he said. In 2017, the company supplied 30,000 calves to home and export customers and the expectation is that trade in 2018 will be stronger.

Mr Scallan urged farmers to ensure calves have BVD certification and are well fed for close to three weeks before being offered for sale.

He said they experienced a big improvement in the quality of Friesian calves on the market in 2017 and expect the trend to show further progress this year.

"Italy, Holland and Spain will continue to be the main markets for the Irish calves in 2018. There is a few of the Baltic states that we are looking at for new markets. We have been out there to meet farmers and co-ops and are in discussions with the Department of Agriculture, who are greatly helping us," he said. "One of my main concerns for the future is that farmers producing crossbred calves from dairy herds need to be seriously careful not to destroy the export trade.

"People buying the black calves will want to know what they are doing, and there will be a problem with Angus crossbred from Jerseys," he warned.

"We don't take those calves, because we are of the belief that it is going to be too damaging to the reputation of the Irish calves on the continent," he stressed.

"The people who are buying them on the continent will not know the difference now, but they certainly will know in six to eight months' time when they find that these calves are not performing.

"The Dutch don't want bad calves that are not going to perform well for them. It is going to come down very shortly to a stage that the Dutch will not want to take these crossbred calves out of the Jersey dairy herds in Ireland, and it is going to give a bad reputation to Irish calves if they are not performing well," he warned.

Live exporter Hubert Maxwell expects a strong market for weanlings and store cattle this year.

Meanwhile, Stena confirmed it has chartered a vessel as a temporary replacement ship for the Stena Horizon. "The ship's owners and managers are currently in the process of seeking the appropriate permissions for the carriage of livestock from the relevant Irish Authorities," it stated. ICMSA president Pat McCormack said confirmation on whether it passed inspection was expected within a fortnight.

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