Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Bombshell for livestock men as €100/hd wiped off cattle prices

Double blow for farmers as values for sheep also plummet

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

A month-long price slide has wiped up to €100/hd off cattle prices in the marts and almost double that at the factories.

Livestock farmers suffered a double blow this week as the sheep trade also took a battering after a price collapse in Britain.

A €5/hd cut in lamb prices at the factories had an immediate knock-on effect at the marts, as prices fell by €10/hd.

The price slump has come at a critical time just before many of the annual weanling sales kick off around the country.

One of the first of the weanling sales this year at Castleisland saw a reduced entry and a significant fall in prices.

"Farmers can't believe how much prices have come back by in the last three weeks," said Castleisland Mart manager, Richard Harnett.

R-grade weanlings averaged €1.80-1.90/kg, while the best types were making €2.20-2.75/kg.

"The entry is back by about 15pc, and the €3/kg that the good weanlings were getting last year is not there. The seller is totally dependent on the live-shipper because there's an anti-bull attitude among farmer buyers which has affected the trade very badly," said Mr Harnett.

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The Castleisland manager said that the effect on suckler numbers would follow quickly.

"The drop in suckler numbers will be alarming. It cost lads €750 to keep the autumn calving cow last winter and we're seeing the mothers arrive at the sales yard here the day after the weanling is sold," he said.

A combination of concern about fodder supplies for next winter, coupled with weakening factory prices has left many farmers wary of feeding cattle this winter.

Bull, cow and heifer quotes are all back by close to 50c/kg or €180/hd for a 360kg carcase over the past month.

IFA livestock chairman, Henry Burns warned that he was preparing to launch direct action targeted at either the processors or retailers if prices were cut again this Thursday or Friday.

Prices of close to €5/kg look set to hold in Britain as figures emerge that there was a 5pc decline in beef calf registrations there in May.

The IFA claimed that prices across the EU also remained stable, with R3 bulls back only 7c/kg. Store bullocks are now back €60 to €100 per head on last year. The farm organisation claims that store heifer prices are back €75 to €100 in the marts, while weanling bulls are back €70-110 and heifers are back €100-125.

However, Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the country's main processors, claimed that the sector was operating in a very difficult environment.

"Irish cattle price is still almost 110pc of the EU average. Our beef is 30-35c/kg more expensive than that in our key Continental markets and this is having a serious impact on competitiveness and sales," it said in a statement.


A spokesman for MII said that while Britain took 50pc of Irish meat exports, the higher cattle prices there only applied to their domestic cattle.

"Domestic product will always receive a premium in the marketplace. Also, the current British price is a reflection of their particular supply-demand situation at the moment, with their prime cattle kill down by over 2pc year-to-date," he added.

MII highlighted that cattle prices were still 6-8pc higher now than last year, along with a higher quality assurance bonus. Cattle prices in

euro equivalents in Britain and France increased by a similar amount during the past 12 months, although prices in Germany are back by 5pc.

Commenting on the cuts to lamb prices, the MII spokesman said that a 20pc jump in lamb supplies over the last week wiped up to €1/kg off factory prices.

Irish Independent