Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Bulls off-loaded at marts as factory quotes cut by 10c/kg

Darragh McCullough and Martin Ryan

The crisis surrounding the reluctance of meat factories to slaughter bulls has deepened this week as some farmers resort to off-loading their bulls at marts.

Kilkenny Mart saw a fivefold increase in the number of heavy bulls presented for sale last week, according to auctioneer George Candler.

"We had up to 70 bulls sold through the ring here, whereas we would normally only have a handful," he said.

"They were mostly Friesian crosses, with some continental types too, but there wasn't much of a premium for the latter -- 10c/kg at most over the €1.90/kg average."

Other mart managers said that they were getting more and more calls from distressed farmers looking for any outlet for their animals.

"I'm taking a lot of calls on this but I'm not encouraging lads to bring their bulls here unless I think we have a good outlet for them," said Tullow Mart's Eric Driver.

"The factories are really out of line on this one," he added.

Despite a series of meetings between IFA representatives and the factories over the last week, bull quotes have slipped by another 10c/kg this week, with some R-grade bulls being quoted as low as 355c/kg.

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Bull beef producers have seen profits slump by €86/hd over the last five years when compared to steer returns.

While 400kg U-grade bulls were beating comparable steers by €31/hd back in 2009, the similar bulls now are averaging €55/hd less than the same steer.

With more than 4,000 bulls still being slaughtered each week, the difference in price between the two categories is costing farmers over €100,000 a week.

The averages for the first week in January show that U-grade steers are now making 14c/kg more than a similar grade young bulls.

Farmers are furious that in years gone by winter finishers were being encouraged to finish more males as young bulls because of their superior grades and feed efficiencies.

Young bulls produce four times more U grade animals than steers. At least 40pc of bulls grade U, compared to just 10pc of steers.

The response was significant, with bull supplies increasing from 120,000 in 2009 to 207,000 in 2012.

Another 185,000 young bulls were slaughtered last year, despite the reluctance of meat factories to take the volumes that they were offered at the backend. The young bull kill for the first week of 2014 was 25pc back on the same week in 2013.

The ICSA warned that Irish meat exports would never again reach the levels achieved in 2013 if the bull beef situation was not resolved.

"If beef producers can't get their bulls processed and there are no export markets for them, the news will be far from positive going forward," said the ICSA beef chairman, Edmond Phelan.

Irish Independent