Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

'Promises and propaganda' from factories angers feeders


A black bull
A black bull

Joe Healy

"Ireland is fighting back, the spirit of our people is as strong as ever". Our Taoiseach was definitely not talking about Irish beef farmers as he delivered his State of the Nation address on Sunday night.

If the beef processors do not begin to treat finishers with some respect and pass back returns to farmers, then the number of farmers leaving beef production is going to escalate.

Beef finishers with stock that are fit to sell and approaching 30 months feel they are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Most had expected some positive movement over the past couple of months but there has been little or no change to the prices since October for steers and heifers and the bull trade has got significantly tougher.

Quotes and prices for in-spec steers remain around €4/kg, with 390c/kg mentioned for over-age stock and 380c/kg being quoted for non-QA animals.

Heifer quotes are around 410c/kg, with most farmers securing 410-415c/kg for their in-spec heifers. A number of hard sellers have negotiated base prices of 420c/kg on the grid for their heifers.

Non-QA heifers are being quoted for as low as 390c/kg and farmers not in the QA scheme need to examine their situation. Why give the factories another stick to beat you with?

The best quote I heard for young bulls was 410c/kg for top quality types. In the main, the R and U grades are making 390-400c/kg. Farmers in the south have sold R grades for 380c/kg. Prices for O grades range from 370c/kg to 380c/kg.

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Depending on the grade, cull cows are making 270-350c/kg, with top animals fetching 330-350c/kg. R grade cows are making 310-340c/kg while the Os are at 290-320c/kg. Prices for the P grades are at 270-290c/kg.

IFA national livestock chairman Henry Burns accused the meat factories of sending confused and contradictory messages to farmers on the beef market, and imposing new price cuts and specifications on a daily basis. He said it was extremely frustrating for feeders, particularly when they have cattle in sheds. He said feeders are at a loss as to how to make a profit.

"The factories are now telling dairy farmers and feeders with Friesian bulls that they don't want to buy them but only two years ago, when numbers were very tight and live exports were strong, the factories pleaded with and promised farmers positive returns to keep Friesian bulls," said Mr Burns. "They are now turning their backs on these feeders."

Henry Burns said those animals would have been exported live as calves were it not for the "promises and propaganda" from factories.

The IFA man insisted that with such a large gap between Irish and British prices, there was little or no basis for any price pressure. He added that British farmers were also angry with Irish processors for what they see as the underselling of Irish beef in Britain.

He added that, despite factory propaganda, the prices of both steers and heifers remained stable at a base price of €4.00/kg for steers and €4.10/4.15 for heifers. He maintained that feeders with a mix of stock were negotiating up to €4.10 for U grade bulls.

Meanwhile, Bord Bia described last week's cattle trade as "unchanged" as market demand ran behind seasonal levels. Prices for steers and heifers remained steady with base quotes under the Quality Payment System at €4.00-4.05/kg for steers, while trade for heifers was at €4.10-4.15/kg. Trade for cull cows was under pressure, with quotes for O grades at €2.90-3.15/kg.

Cattle throughput for last week was approximately 32,261hd. For the year to date supply is up 7pc.

In Britain, trade picked up as the seasonal shopping period commenced. Steak cuts continued to attract a positive trade, with ribs also in high demand and an improved trade for fillets.

Prices from the AHDB were unchanged with GB R4L grade steers averaging £397.1p/kg dw (equivalent to 495 c/kg including VAT deadweight) for the week ended December 7.

In France, the R3 young bull price increased by 4c/kg to €4.03/kg inclusive of VAT, while the 03 cow price remained at €3.39/kg. The R3 young bull price in Italy remained at €4.19/kg including VAT, while the 03 cow price decreased by 2c/kg to €2.72/kg.

Irish Independent