Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Factory relations on 'knife-edge' over bulls


Joe Healy

I think it would be fair to say that relations, however strained they are, between our Taoiseach and Tánaiste at the moment are much better than they are between beef finishers and beef factories.

The weekend just gone was all about bonus points on the rugby fields as teams battled for qualification to the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, but beef farmers are currently finding it difficult to even get their stock killed, never mind to talk about satisfactory prices or bonuses.

Definitely, those with bulls are the worst hit. My father used to say that you should never deal with a person who hadn't a 'word'.

Cordelia, in King Lear said that "her word was her bond," but the words that came flowing from the beef processors two years ago encouraging farmers to keep and feed their bull calves have now turned very sour as those same processors are totally reneging on the expectations that they very definitely built up in farmers' minds.

Finishers are caught between a rock, a hard place and the deep blue sea in that they are finding it difficult to get their bulls away, especially if they are not killing heifers or steers as well.

Then there are the low prices that are being offered and, finally, the issue of age with bulls coming up to 24 months.

In any event, the quotes and prices for U grade bulls vary from a low of 360c/kg up to 400c/kg, with the Rs ranging from 360c/kg to 390c/kg.


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Some plants are offering as low as 355c/kg for the Rs and 340c/kg for the O grades. Overage and heavy bulls are proving very difficult to get away.

Steer quotes remain at €4/kg for in-spec and 390c/kg for the out of spec types. Some farmers have got up to 405c/kg base on the grid. As for the heifers, well the quotes for the suitable types are generally around the 410c/kg, with up to 415c/kg being negotiated. An odd factory are trying to quote 405c/kg for underage heifers.

The older heifer is at 400c/kg. I did hear of overage R grade steers in the midlands selling for €4/kg, with U grades making 410c/kg flat.

Prices for cull cows range from 280c/kg to 350c/kg, depending on type and finish. The Us are making 340-350c/kg, the Rs are at 320-340c/kg, while 300c/kg is the general run for the O grades. P grade cows are making around the 280-290c/kg.

Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association beef chairman Edmond Phelan has castigated meat factories for "misleading farmers" by encouraging them into Friesian bull beef two years ago, and now leaving them high and dry.

Mr Phelan also suggested that factories were trying to eliminate bulls because they wanted to undermine the live trade to north Africa, which is mainly for bulls.

"Then when they have a build up of steer beef, they will be able to cut steer price."

There was little change reported in the trade in Britain, with demand evenly matched. Steak cuts and topsides are performing reasonably well, with best trade still reported for forequarter cuts.

Reported cattle prices from the AHDB have eased during the past week, with GB R4L grade steers averaging at Stg387.7p/kg deadweight (equivalent to 492c/kg, including VAT deadweight) for the week ending January 11.

In France, demand remains seasonally quiet, with the R3 young bull price making €4.14/kg including VAT, while the 03 cow price was unchanged at €3.35/kg.

Trading activity in Italy remains slower than usual. However, demand for forequarter cuts has begun to slowly build, while sluggish demand for cuts such as fillets and knuckles is evident on the market. The R3 young bull price was making €4.24/kg including VAT, while the 03 cow price was making the equivalent of €2.74/kg.

Elsewhere, the Swedish Board of Agriculture estimates that Swedish meat usage has continued to increase. In 2013, total usage reached 88.5kg including bones, per person. Poultry leads the way with growth of around 8pc, followed by pork and beef at 4pc each. Actual annual meat consumption per person is approximately 50-55kg/yr.

Since the 1990s, Swedish meat consumption has grown by 40pc, but it remains slightly below the EU average. However, Swedish beef consumption per capita currently holds Europe's third highest level behind Denmark and France. Conversely, less pork, poultry and lamb is consumed.

The growing interest in protein-rich diets such as the Low Carbohydrates High Fat (LCHF) and the Glycemic Index (GI) has also influenced meat consumption.

Ireland remains a key beef supplier to Sweden, yet Irish beef penetration in the Swedish market is being challenged, particularly by the Netherlands.

Irish Independent