A more concentrated effort at political level to get bilateral trade talks going to secure more outlets for live exports has been called for as the autumn weanling trade approaches the seasonal peak.
ICMSA beef chairman Michael Guinan has predicted that "the trade for weanlings this autumn should remain strong" and he urged farmers to "ignore comments from individuals who seem intent in dampening the trade for their own reasons".
However, calf registration figures show that births in 2016 have increased by 69,000hd in dairy herds and a further 21,000 in beef, when compared to 2015. Taken with a pronounced drop in calf exports this year - down almost 14,000 on last year at 71,033 compared to 84,743 in 2015 - there should be a substantial increase in the number of weanlings at the sales over the coming weeks.
He said certain things can be done to improve the trade further and increasing live exports to North Africa and Turkey should top the list, with the specification requirements in Turkey a particular problem for Irish traditional weanlings.
"There is some activity around the Turkish market but the specs there are too light and too small to really benefit Ireland and to ensure that the trade would take significant numbers. They're getting their heavier weanlings from South America and this is an issue the Minister for Agriculture should pursue with Turkey because that's really the market that would further boost the price of our traditional weanling," he said. "Without being overly-critical of the agencies involved, we do need to see a more concentrated effort to get these bilateral trade talks going: there are serious numbers going from certainly France to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, but we're still without any significant penetration in those markets and we need to know why," he added.
Mr Guinan said the situation needs to change because it is good to have markets opening "but we have to get the marketing and negotiating personnel there to turn the potential into better prices. Otherwise, what's the point?". He said: "The weanling producer has incurred very significant costs in bringing their animals to the marketplace and they need the maximum possible return to stay in this business" and a weak market will not sustain their future.
Martin Ryan, Mid Tipperary Mart, Thurles, said that without the strong farmer demand currently at the weanling sales, the trade would be very poor.
"We are seeing very little export interest. The trade is being driven by the farmer customers who are buying the good weanlings at €2.20-€3.30/kg for the bulls and up to €3/kg is being paid for the tops in the lighter weights in particular," he said. "With the cost of producing the good weanlings, producers are working on a very tight margin when the cost of keeping the suckler cow is taken into account. Without a good live export trade, there will be more pressure on prices when the bigger numbers come out at the peak of the season," he added.
Clare Marts manager Martin McNamara said that the quality weanlings are meeting with excellent demand with the 300-370kg weight range holding a very strong trade.
"The heavier bull weanling of 420kg upward, unless there is a very good specialised bull beef interest, is a more difficult trade. The position with the heifer, what we are finding is that the real good quality lots are a very strong trade.
"There were plenty of customers there for the real good quality 350kg heifer and they are selling very well. The plainer lots, both heifers and bull, took a bit of a tumble a month ago and they have not recovered from that yet. The demand is not there for them. I find the customers are really going for the quality lots all the time. The good U grade are in great demand.
"There is very little export trade at present and still a lot of uncertainty as to what will come from the export prospects with Turkey, because price is a difficulty and there appears to be other problems too with getting stock going. There appears to be a small bit of speculative buying going on in relation to Turkey. They would be looking for a lighter weanling at 220-230kg and up to 270kg, but there is no indication they can find a market for the top weanlings.
"There appears to be no confirmation that there is any contract in place for Turkey, but some of the good bulls are being bought for Spain with a reasonable market for the good heifer.
"It is difficult to judge how the trade is going to develop and if the export trade does not build up over the coming weeks, it will be a loss. About 85pc of the weanlings at present are being bought by farmers.
"It will certainly be a huge loss if there is not a strong export trade when the bigger supply comes out in a few weeks. Where it can be seen at the moment is that there is a good market for the good Charolais or Limousin, but the shipper is not in the market for weights once they go over 250-270kg," he added.
A number of sale centres have reported an improved trade over the past week, but the general consensus is that the acid test will be the level of demand at peak of season in September and October.
Tullow Mart reported a slight increase in numbers on offer, but the normal peak of season is still some weeks away. The top weanling bulls are ranging €2.25-€2.50/kg but the lack of demand for export to Italy is having an effect on the top continentals.
The impact of the weak export trade is being felt particularly for the quality Belgian blue bulls, with some sale centres reporting that prices are back by €70-€90/hd on last year due to the absence of demand for exports to Italy.
Mountrath Mart reported plenty of farmer buyers for the Limousin and Charolais weanlings at €2.50-2.60/kg with the top E grade Belgian blue weanling bulls meeting with a tougher trade, at prices back by 30c/kg on last year.