South American imports a threat to beef incomes, warns Bord Bia
The threat of increased beef imports into Europe from Argentina could erase any benefits that accrue to Irish farmers from lower EU beef production in 2019.
Bord Bia meat specialist Joe Burke told delegates at its Meat Marketing seminar that Irish beef exports could benefit from a 2pc decrease in EU beef production this year.
"For 2019 there's expected to be a net decline of 1.7pc or a return to 2017 levels [of supply] as some of our key markets are forecasting declines in production which will hopefully work in our favour," Mr Burke told the seminar.
"Production in France will be down 3.7pc, Germany down 2.9pc, UK down 2.3pc. This will have a significant impact on their import demands," he said.
However, Bord Bia markets specialist Mark Zieg pointed out that imports from South America into the EU increased sharply last year, with supplies from Brazil up 22pc and Argentina 40pc higher.
Mr Zieg said Argentina is "aggressively targeting" the EU market, with beef exports to the EU set to rise by 15pc for 2019.
He said such a move puts Ireland in a vulnerable position given the possibility of a Mercosur deal being secured which would further increase EU market access for South American beef.
"It's something that we need to be watching very strongly. We have seen a couple of successive years of Argentina increasing their overall exports.
"They grew by 207,000 tonnes in 2018 and are forecasting less growth this year but are still there at 75,000 tonnes," he told the Farming Independent.
"They produce beef that would be seen by many buyers as being of a similar type quality to Ireland's - a conformed steer and heifer beef from traditional breeds such as Hereford," he said.
"It would often be pitched at a similar price to Irish beef. There's an increased presence on the market for it and it increased rapidly in Europe, so that shows that there is a popularity there for it."
He said the decline of the Irish suckler herd by 50,000hd last year and a reduction in suckler calf registrations by 40,000 is a concern when Ireland is trying to compete with top quality South American product.
He added that Bord Bia was working on getting EU funding to market Irish suckler beef as a premium product in order to improve prices.
"It is of concern because lighter weights are coming through and conformation grades are not as good, so if we went to very low levels of sucklers then conformation and quality would be restricted.
"There are still a lot of things we can do with well-conformed dairy beef, but the suckler beef herd has been the backstop and it's what we talk about and we really wouldn't like to see it diminish any further," Mr Zieg explained.
"There's an awareness in the industry that we need a critical level of sucklers and that has to be addressed."
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