Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cattle grades slide is the legacy of fodder crisis and fall in live exports

VOTES IN: Eighteen IFA members living on Inishboffin Island off the coast of Galway voted in the IFA election over the weekend. Pictured taking the sealed contents of the ballot box back to the mainland are Roy O'Brien, branch returning officer and Henry Kenny, Inishboffin Island IFA branch chairman
VOTES IN: Eighteen IFA members living on Inishboffin Island off the coast of Galway voted in the IFA election over the weekend. Pictured taking the sealed contents of the ballot box back to the mainland are Roy O'Brien, branch returning officer and Henry Kenny, Inishboffin Island IFA branch chairman

Martin Ryan

The legacy of last spring's fodder crisis coupled with a huge increase in the number of Friesian steers being brought to slaughter has resulted in a sharp decline in the grading results for prime cattle.

There was a 72pc increase in P-grade steers during the first half of 2013 compared to the same period last year, according to Department of Agriculture figures. At the same time, the number of steers hitting R-grade dropped by 17pc.

The pattern eased only slightly during the third quarter of the year, when P grade steers were 60pc higher than 2012 and R-grade steers were 15pc lower.

The increase in P-grade steers resulted in over 14,000 extra steers being classified in the lowest grade in the first nine months of 2013.

A 6pc increase in O-grades combined with the decrease in R-grade stock suggests that approximately 7,900 steers moved from R-grade down to O-grade during the same period.

The slide in grade scores represents a loss of over €2m for farmers.

This calculation is based on the average reported price in August for O-grade cattle being 21c/kg lower than R-grade, and a 30c/kg gap between O- and P-grade cattle.

This equates to a loss of almost €90 for the 22,400 animals involved.

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Individual factories have recorded as much as a fivefold increase in P grades this autumn.

Kepak Clonee ended up with 27pc of its autumn kill classified as Ps, almost five times the number it processed last year.

Dawn Granagh, Dawn Charleville and Kepak Watergrasshill all saw their P grade numbers double to 20pc this autumn when compared to 2012.

The change reverses trends in recent years that saw an annual improvement in grading returns, with a marked decrease in the numbers of P- and O-grade cattle, and a corresponding increase in the number of R-grade stock.

The decline in grading scores was less pronounced in heifers, with a 21pc increase in P-grades for the autumn period this year.

The figures are based on the total kill across all operating beef export plants.

Bord Bia's beef specialist Joe Burke attributed some of the changes to the extra 100,000 head of cattle that have been slaughtered through the meat factories this year.

"There was an increase in cull cows this year but at least 50pc of the increase is directly related to the extra stock that was retained on farms in 2011," he said.

"Back then live export prices were not as attractive, especially for Holstein Friesian bull calves and these are only being presented for slaughter this year."

Mr Burke added that P-grade carcasses tended to have 5pc less saleable meat yield on a kilo-for-kilo basis when compared to O-grade stock.

"Often the steak cuts are not adequate size from these low grade carcasses, which reduces the value of the carcass further to the point that it is often worth little more than cull cow beef," he said.

Reacting to the increase in P-grade cattle at Dawn Meats plants, group development manager Paul Nolan said that the shift was simply increasing the amount of meat that they were forced to sell at commodity prices.

"These P-grades are being bought at commodity prices and sold at commodity prices," he said. "There's no where else for them to go."

Irish Independent