A farming colleague of mine asked me last week whether I thought we had reached a tipping point as regards prices in the mart trade.
I was surprised that he should think so given the uniqueness of this year. We have strong overseas supermarket demand underpinning the factory trade, the resumption of a meaningful shipping trade and farming in general benefiting from a very good summer.
With this in mind I looked back to my ringside report from this time last year just to see if the general feeling that 2017 has been a good year is reflected in the figures.
While overall mart averages across all the various bullock weight divisions are up year-on-year, are those increases in line with market forces?
And how does the price of beef to the farmer at the factory gate for example compare?
Last year factory base prices were from 15-20c/kg behind this year’s at €3.80- 3.85/kg versus last week’s base of €4.00-4.05/kg. That works out at €54-72/hd on a 360kg carcase.
On the heavier 600kg+ bullocks we see last year’s average ringside price was €1.93/kg or €1,158/hd at this time versus €2.05/kg or €1,230 last week.
In effect the figures show that this year’s better factory price is being passed back almost entirely to mart sellers at this weight.
Once you go back down the weights, the factory-mart price connection, while still there, can be sometimes harder to clearly nail down.
That aside, the comparative figures in the 500-599kg section show a yearly difference of 14c/kg or €70-84/hd at €1.94/kg for 2016 versus last week’s €2.08/kg.
The price gap in the 400- 499kg section closes to just 4c/kg or €16-20/hd before opening again to 8c/kg in the 300-399kg division.
The big question is why last week’s prices in the 400- 499kg section were just 4ckg above those for the same week in 2016?
I believe the answer lies in the type of cattle at this weight that are going through the marts at present.
I was in Kilkenny last week where there was a massive sale for the time of the year.
However, along with the better continental bullocks there were a considerable number of black and whites.
Auctioneer George Chandler noted in his report that plainer stores were back by €10-30/hd, while the ringside figures for the bottom quarter in the 400-499/kg section shows a fall nationally of 8c/kg or €32-40/hd.
That 8c/kg fall pushed those lesser animals down to €1.49/kg.
That said, down the road in Carrick-on-Suir the following day the better Friesian bullock was clicking €2.00/kg.
Taking one lot of three cattle at 513kgs who made €960/hd or €1.87/kg as an example, manager Michael Harty said: “They might have done a shade better a week or two ago.” However, the good continental is still sought after with one 730kg Charolais making €1,860 or €2.55/kg, illustrating the continuing strength of factory demand. On the fall-off in cull cow numbers coming through the sales rings, Mr Harty noted: “Dairy farmers are following the money and anything that can be milked is being kept.”
Mart manager John Gilligan was also of a mind that the Friesian bullock has eased back. While quoting a price range of €1.87- 2.05/kg for the better Friesian, others were sold down at €1.50/kg.
Continental store prices ranged from €2.33-2.67/kg, while store heifers made €2.24-2.71/kg. Prices ranged from €2.10- 2.42/kg for heavier stock even though some were over 30-months of age and thefore not in-spec. For example, a 715kg Limousin made €2.22/kg.
The very good selection of store heifers here saw prices range from €2.38/kg paid for a Belgian Blue Friesian cross to €2.53/ kg for a 383/kg Charolais. The bigger number of store heifers was balanced by a smaller sale of bullocks. Prices among heavier stock saw black and white crossed Friesians making from €1.83/kg for 682kgs to €1.88/kg for 638kgs. Prices for the same breed at lower weights were stronger with one lot of the cross-bred Friesians at 409kgs clicking €2.08/kg.
166 miles to the south of Castleblaney the store heifer was also out in force. Prices here for 400-500kg Hereford and Aberdeen Angus ranged between €2.00-2.10/kg, while a sample of heavier stock saw a 610kg Charolais reach €2.50/kg. Bullock numbers were not strong but the lesson that good beef breeding from the dairy sector does actually deliver was hammered home. A selection 470kg Friesians hit €2.00/kg, with the same seller seeing his 417kg Aberdeen Angus cattle achieving €2.11/kg.
Numbers here were very large for the time of year as it appears many autumn sellers maybe moving earlier. The good continental bullock up and down the weight divisions hit €2.60/kg in the 600kg-plus weight bracket; €2.85/kg in the 500-600kg section, and €2.90/kg below 500kgs. The large turnout of Friesian stock saw prices for plainer types fall back by €10-30/ hd. The heifer was also a good trade with beef and forward stores making from €2.00-2.80/kg. Cull cows continued strong with prices running from €1.40-2.30 for continentals.
Charolais heifers from 570-620kgs made from €2.07-2.27/kg, while a Hereford who tipped the scales at 645kgs made €2.15/kg. Among the lighter under-400kg bullocks, the top performer was a 382kg Limousin at €2.67/kg.
However, at €2.78/kg the owner of a 460kg Belgian Blue could have no complaints nor could the owner of a 625kg Charolais as he pocketed €2.51/kg. Fat cows sold from €810-1,280.
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