Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Declan O'Brien: Beef exports up by 8pc despite horsemeat woe

Aidan Cotter, a native of Glanworth, has been appointed the new Chief Executive of Bord Bia.
Aidan Cotter, a native of Glanworth, has been appointed the new Chief Executive of Bord Bia.
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

There was good news for the Irish food and drinks industry last week with the announcement by Bord Bia that exports were up 8pc for the first six months of the year.

Surprisingly, the star sector was beef, with volume growth in exports from January to June up 10pc and price growth up 5pc. This helped drive total beef exports to €1.1bn for the first half of the year.

The sterling performance of beef exports must be all the more satisfying for those involved in the industry given the appalling start to the year that the horsemeat scandal delivered.

Indeed, if you'd said at the height of the scare in February that beef sales would actually improve as a result of it, questions would have been asked of your sanity.

Commenting on the increase in beef sales, the head of Bord Bia, Aidan Cotter, attributed it in part to the fact that 85pc of Irish beef production is being sourced from quality approved farms.

He might be right. The Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme has certainly helped secure contracts from some of the major retailers and buyers across Britain and mainland Europe for Irish processors.

Indeed, these contracts, particularly in Britain, have helped drive the Irish beef price to 9pc above the EU average.

However, the sceptic in me would argue that the improved export performance has a lot more to do with beef supplies than anything else.

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Figures from right across Europe confirm that beef production is continuing to fall back. Imports of beef into the EU stood at 300,000t in 2012 and that figure is expected to increase significantly this year.

Add to this the fact that thousands of tonnes of so-called 'horse beef' have been taken out of the mix and it is clear the prospects for the trade are positive. Demand may not be electric but as long as supplies remain tight the outlook for beef exporting nations such as Ireland remains bright.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the prospects for beef prices locally. The processors seem determined to pull prices before numbers start to come on stream in earnest in the back end of the year.

Despite the best efforts of the IFA, the beef bosses still hold the trump cards in determining the profitability of beef farming.

Cattle prices will be under severe pressure again this autumn unless a credible live shipping option gets going.

In the absence of a live shipping alternative that keeps a floor on cattle prices, the growth in beef exports will be great for Ireland Inc but will be of little use to Irish farmers.

Indo Farming