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Siege lifts but beef 'war' is far from over

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Farmers taking part in an IFA nationwide 48-hour beef price protest earlier this year

Farmers taking part in an IFA nationwide 48-hour beef price protest earlier this year

Farmers taking part in an IFA nationwide 48-hour beef price protest earlier this year

GOOD things sometimes do come to those who wait Look at our rugby lads last Sunday who had to wait until the second half to open up. Well beef farmers have been waiting for quite a while now and I know that not everybody will agree with me but thankfully there is positive movement across the board on prices this week.

It's difficult, however, to disagree with farmers who say the improvements seem slow and laboured and that quotes should now be up at the €4/kg.

Against that, a farmer I spoke to over the weekend was cursing his luck as he had sold his cattle during the week leading up to the first protest and he had got a base of 365c/kg for his in-spec steers and 355c/kg for his overage stock. He said his neighbour is selling similar types - under and over age this week - and has been quoted a base of 380c/kg for everything and will now bargain for more. With his own stock about half and half under and over age, he said since the protests he would have got an average of 20c/kg more at least.

He has a point because a base of 380c/kg is commonplace with actual prices generally in the 380-385c/kg bracket, with tops of a 390c/kg base being negotiated in places.

But I am also aware of a couple of plants quoting lower than the 380c/kg for cattle qualifying for the Hereford and Angus schemes. A case of giving with one hand and taking it back with the other.

Their base quote for heifers in the main is at 385c/kg, with prices varying between this and 390c/kg. Some finishers have got a base of 395c/kg, with up to €4/kg also reported. The farmer referred to earlier hoped that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) was addressing all the parties involved in the forum - not just the farming organisations last week.

He also wondered if what they had to say was not flying in the face of the main pillar of the minister's idea for producer groups.

Scarce

Meanwhile, young bulls are scarce and in demand with up to 390c/kg paid for a mix of R and U grades. Quotes for the Us vary from 380-390c/kg with the Rs at 370-380. The O grades are at 340-355c/kg. With the estimated cattle kill at 27,085 hd last week albeit interrupted by the protest, there is a strong feeling of a tightening of numbers. Demand is building and the Christmas market has to be met so for the moment the ball is in the farmers court. Make use of it.

Cull cow quotes and prices range from 310-360c/kg. P and O grades are making from 310-330c/kg while the top cows grading R and U are making from 340-360c/kg.

IFA national livestock chairman, Henry Burns, said cattle prices are rising with farmers digging in and not prepared to move stock at the lower quoted prices. He said the quotes have moved up to €3.80/kg for steers and €3.85/kg for heifers but some factories are having to pay €3.85/3.90 base for steers and €3.90/3.95/kg for heifers.

Mr Burns said with the grass cattle almost gone, farmers know supplies have tightened and are holding out for higher prices.

"The Christmas market demand is at its peak," he said. "Factories need numbers and are having to pay 5c to 10c/kg over quoted prices to get numbers."

An Bord Bia reported that the cattle trade continues to be underpinned by good demand coupled with a tightening in supply of grass fed cattle. Trade was relatively steady across our key export markets.

Meanwhile, live exports of cattle have increased for the year to date, and are currently standing at 216,050 head. This highlights an increase of 14pc compared last year.

Latest figures show cattle exports of 4,575 head were recorded for the week ending November 1st according to the Department of Agriculture's AIM system.

Year to date figures show a decline in the live export of weanlings by around 2,000 hd. However, this has been offset by a 15% and 28% rise in stores and finished cattle respectively. Live exports of calves are up 13% so far this year, and make up 47% of total live exports.

The principal destination for the live cattle trade continues to be the UK, followed by continental markets such as Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, and international markets such as North Africa.

The number of cattle moved to the UK so far this year increased by 10% on last year's results to almost 59,000 head. This is driven by an 11% rise in finished cattle exports and significant increases in exports of calves and stores. The number of animals exported to Italy has increased by 21%, to reach over 28,000 head, with stores and weanlings driving the trade there. Similarly Spain has seen a strong increase in numbers, with a 23% rise in live cattle exports to date this year. This has been driven by increases across all categories, but particularly for weanlings and calves.

Focusing on international markets, over 18,000 head of cattle have been exported to date this year, an 11% increase on last year. North Africa is the main destination internationally, with Libya continuing to drive trade, with numbers up 22% compared to the previous year's levels.

Email: jhealy@independent.ie

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