Martin Coughlan: Protests start to bite as kill falls back to just over 22,000hd


Protesters outside the Dawn Meats plant at Grannagh (Brian Lawless/PA)
Protesters outside the Dawn Meats plant at Grannagh (Brian Lawless/PA)
Martin Coughlan

Martin Coughlan

The ongoing factory protests are starting to really bite supplies. Last week's kill was back to just 22,068hd compared to the 38,459 that went through the system this week last year, or the 30,300 two weeks ago.

I heard reports over the weekend that some farmers with cattle in danger of going over age, and with ground conditions on their farms deteriorating, were forced in desperation to hawk their wares around to factories outside their usual areas.

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The result, I'm told, was that these bullocks went up the chute on a base of €3.40/kg. With upwards of 16 exporting plants out of 31 not scheduling work yesterday morning the pressure on those with fit stock is growing.

The general run of base prices for bullocks appears to be holding at €3.45-3.50/kg, with heifers on €3.55-3.60/kg.

Prices in early September 2018 saw R3 and 4 bullocks averaging €3.90-4.00/kg, with heifers making up to €4.10/kg.

However, this is a different year with prices in Britain and Europe not much better.

Prices for cull cows and bulls appear to be holding, with R-grade cows generally making €3.10-3.20/kg, O grades on €2.95/kg and P+ cows €2.85/kg. U grade bulls are on €3.50-3.40/kg, R grades are being quoted at €3.40-3.30 and O grades around €3.20/kg.

The big issue for those with stock is finding a plant that can take them without having to cross a picket line.

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This has led to the supply of information on the ground drying up as farmers become wary.

Several finishers I spoke with told me they have effectively stopped enquiring from their neighbours about prices "because you don't know where you're talking".

The divisions between those who have to deal with the processors and those who claim that by stopping them doing business they are doing them a favour are deepening - and they won't be forgotten.

Once the Ploughing is over the mood music within the trade will change as those with cattle to either buy or sell step up the gears.

Factory protests or no factory protests, Brexit or no Brexit, good weather or poor, the emphasis among cattle farmers, whether killing beef or buying stores from now until early December, will be on getting business done.

The big hope from any factory/farmer talks is that there will be movement on the issues of the 30-month age limit and the four-movement rule.

Should the 30-month limit be raised to 36 months, the knock-on effects could be very interesting.

I can see factories creating a payment system based on grades combined with carcase weights as is the case with Foyle Meats in Donegal.

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