At one stage last year I remarked that the beef trade was as steady as the Irish scrum. Thankfully, the beef trade at the moment bears absolutely no similarity to Declan Kidney's front eight.
The processors appear to have been controlling prices and keeping them at their current levels for the past few weeks, although some finishers are managing to squeeze a little upward movement from them. Supplies continue to tighten and processors are finding it more and more difficult to secure adequate numbers.
Base quotes for the steers are generally 400-405c/kg, with a few finishers managing to negotiate prices of up to 408c/kg on the grid. Finishers in the northwest have secured up to 418c/kg for their R-grade steers and heifers, but elsewhere quotes for these heifers are in the 410-415c/kg bracket. Top prices of 418-420c/kg have been paid, with a 425c/kg base reported from the northeast.
The bull quotes show no change this week, with O grades at 390-400c/kg, Rs at 400-410c/kg and U grades at 410-420c/kg. Some farmers have sold a mixture of Rs and Us for a flat price of 415c/kg.
IFA livestock chairman Henry Burns said beef finishers were digging in hard on price in an effort to recover some of their increased costs. Cull cows remain an extremely strong trade, with top quality types making as high as 380c/kg over the past week.
Outside of this, the general run of prices for U grades is 364-380c/kg, with Rs at 350-380c/kg. O grades made 336-364c/kg, while the prices paid for P+ cows were 322-352c/kg.
Reacting to efforts by meat factories to impose cuts on lower grade bulls and heavier bull carcasses -- with some reports of 10-15c/kg discounts being quoted -- ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan said beef factories must clarify where they stand on bull beef production.
He pointed out that the failure to include bulls in the beef grid indicated that meat factories were not supportive of the production of top grade U+ carcasses from young bulls.
"Farmers who produce top quality young bulls are not getting properly rewarded in beef factories," said Mr Phelan. "While U+ steers can get up to 30c/kg more than the R-grade base price under the beef grid, no such premium applies to bulls."
So far this year, we have seen a 16.6pc increase in young bull slaughter numbers and a 25.7pc decline in steer slaughterings. This means that young bulls are accounting for 28.5pc of the total prime cattle kill this year, compared to 10pc in 2009 and just 3pc 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, Bord Bia reported a firm cattle trade last week, as some further tightening in supplies helped maintain price levels and demand showed little change over the week.
Quotes for R-grade steers under the Quality Payment System averaged €4-4.08/kg. Heifers were quoted at €4.10-4.20/kg. These prices exclude the 6c/kg on in-spec quality assured stock. Cow prices remained strong, with O-grade animals at €3.50-3.64/kg.
The UK trade for beef was firm, with good market demand for most cuts and tight availability.