Ringside: Beef sector may finally be on the up

US Secretary for Agricuture Tom Vilsack pictured during a visit to Stephen Morrisson's Beef Farm in Kill, Co. Kildare with Minister for Agriculture & Food Simon Coverney.
US Secretary for Agricuture Tom Vilsack pictured during a visit to Stephen Morrisson's Beef Farm in Kill, Co. Kildare with Minister for Agriculture & Food Simon Coverney.

Joe Healy

It's great to be able to begin the beef column on a positive note for the New Year.

What's seldom is wonderful and with rising prices and tightening supplies - allied to the announcement yesterday morning that we are to become the first EU country since 1999 to be allowed export beef to the US - the year has certainly started well.

One farmer commented, tongue in cheek, that "there might even be an exodus of dairy farmers out of dairying and into beef" before quickly adding that "one swallow never made a summer".

However, as I often say, let's be grateful for little mercies.

Right now, the year ahead shows some long overdue and extremely warranted hope for a sector that would definitely not survive another year like the one just past.

The extra cattle in the system in 2014 was one of the many negative factors with 150,000hd extra animals slaughtered giving a year end figure of 1.667 million hd compared to the 1.517m slaughtered the previous year.

Last week's kill stood at 23,269hd which was which was some 2,350hd less than the corresponding week last year.

Current quotes are very similar to the opening quotes last year with the steer base generally at 395-400c/kg and the heifers at 405c/kg.

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Factories are however extremely anxious for stock and in reality are paying the €4/kg base freely for the steers with 410c/kg being a minimum for what farmers will accept as a base for their heifers.


If you are settling for less you are leaving money behind you as plants are quite happy to pay the 410c/kg base with a number of plants happy to pay a base of up to 415c/kg and reports suggest that a few more cent/kg were to be got.

My advice is to shop around for quotes and bargain hard before deciding where to sell.

The ball just appears to be more in the farmers court at the moment than it has been for quite a while. Also enquire about the bonus on cattle outside the QA 12c/kg bonus but from QA herds.

It seems to vary from plant to plant and not always confined to amount. The actual figure doing the rounds appears to be €3/hd.

The bulls are making from 365-410c/kg depending on grade. Some plants are very interested in bulls at the moment and a few of them have paid up to €4/kg for heavy overage types.

Others have paid 410c/kg for U grades and even for mixes of mainly Us but also including a few Rs. O grades are making from 365-380c/kg in the main but up to 380c/kg has been negotiated.

The IFA'ss Henry Burns said cattle prices are continuing to drive on into the new year with prices rising and factories having to pay above quoted prices to get tighter supplies.

He said the base price of steers has moved up to €4.00-4.05/kg and for heifers to €4.05-4.10/kg. He said more is being paid to get numbers and top prices of €4.20/4.30 paid in order to procure specialist lots over the last few days. He added that O grade Friesians bulls have made from €3.90-3.95.

The tops I heard for cull cows was 380c/kg for a mix of good well fleshed heavy cows. The R and U grades are making anything from 340-380c/kg while the O grades are moving at 325-350c/kg. Prices for the Ps is generally in a range from 310-320c/kg.

Cattle Marts

There is only a handful of marts back holding cattle sales at this stage but those back in business appeared satisfied with the opening trade.

Numbers being offered are small as expected with keen demand easily outstripping supply.

A few mart managers I spoke to over the Christmas holidays were happily surprised at the way the trade held up throughout the past year despite the turmoil regarding price and attitude from the processors. Average prices across the board at the marts matched and even surpassed on occasion those for the previous year.

A number of them specifically made reference to the weanling trade which for a while prior to the autumn sales looked doomed.

However, the bull prices generally remained steady while heifer weanlings enjoyed keen demand and strong prices

Carnew was one of the few marts to hold a cattle sale over the past week.

The 150 hd on offer met with a lively start to the new year with weanling, store and beef cattle commanding keen interest from a large number of customers around the ring.

Beef and forward store bullocks made from €750-1,000 over the €1/kg.

Lighter stores were making from €450-820 with their weight. Prices for the heifers ranged from €350-750 with the weight while the cull cows moved at €150-850 over.

Dowra had 310 cattle on offer last Saturday for their final sale of 2014. Trade was improved from the sale before Christmas.

Weanling heifers under 300kg made from €2.20-3.20/kg in the main with the top lots making up to €3.80/kg.

Heifers from 300-400kg were making from €2.00-3.00/kg. Lots between 400-550kg moved at €2.00-2.60/kg.

Weanling bulls under 300 kg made from €1.80-3.00/kg. A few fancier types peaked at €3.40/kg. Bulls from 300-400kg made from €1.80-2.80/kg. Heavier types were making from €2.00-2.45.

Store bullocks under 500 kg made from €1.70-2.70/kg. Lots over 500 kg sold for €1.60-2.35/kg.

The better cows made from €1.60-2.00/kg. Cows for feeding were making from €1.10-1.60/kg.

Maam will be holding their cattle sales each Saturday immediately after the sheep are finished.

At their recent sale, the steers sold for € Heifers were making from €2.12-2.50/kg in the main but a top price of €3.35/kg was paid for one outstanding Charollais heifer. Weanling prices ran from €2.55-3.45/kg.

The top price overall was achieved when a 365kg Charollais sold for €1,150. Suckler cows with a calf at foot ranged from €1,115-1,320/unit. Cull cows made from €1.35-2.15/kg.

 jhealy@ independent.ie

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