Exclusive Beef deal has failed to deliver on key price commitments
The deal struck to end farmer blockades at meat factories has failed to deliver any worthwhile price increases for beef farmers.
The deal struck to end farmer blockades at meat factories has failed to deliver any worthwhile price increases for beef farmers.
Processor-controlled feedlots have not been as active as usual in the marts this autumn and their absence has robbed livestock sales of crucial buyers.
There is a widely held belief in Ireland that all US beef is hormone-treated. So I went to the primary US beef trade stand in at the recent Anuga...
My report last week bore the headline "Mart trade for out-of-spec and heavy cattle a bloodbath" - and that trend continues.
Barely a month ago supermarket shelves were running low on pre-packed beef as supplies dwindled.
While all sheep factories were able to resume operations last week, following the suspension of protests organised to aid beef producers, those with sheep to sell continue to suffer.
The big issue for those with stock to sell is being able to get them into the factory queue.
A backlog as high as 100,000 cattle is weighing on beef prices as unsettled weather puts pressure on farmers to offload stock.
The difficulties created by the beef blockades for sheep farmers and sheep processors continue to linger.
The final blockades at meat factories across the country were lifted over the weekend, but facilities are running at a reduced capacity this week.
A glut of 70,000 cattle has been created as a result of the marathon beef dispute between farmers and meat protestors.
The ongoing factory protests are starting to really bite supplies. Last week's kill was back to just 22,068hd compared to the 38,459 that went...
"Collateral damage" was the phrase used by one factory sheep agent yesterday after his factory was targeted and closed by protesting farmers.
The situation on the ground yesterday saw quotes for both lambs and cull ewes no worse than they were seven days ago.
With many factories blockaded again yesterday and supplies building in the system, are we in danger of seeing a tipping point being reached?
"The weather is playing hell" was the refrain from across the country yesterday as the heavens opened yet again. On the price front, most of the major players continue to hold their quotes for lamb at last week's levels, with only Kepak Athleague breaking cover and lunging downwards.
If you are serious about getting your product onto the international stage, the Anuga Food Fair is a must.
Mart trade across the country is dominated by continuing high turnouts.
A lot is being made in some quarters about the fact that many of those with cattle to kill are experiencing delays in getting their stock away. There can be no doubting there are delays with factories appearing to continue to prioritise younger stock or those in danger of going over age.
The possibility of a hard Brexit at the end of the month is impacting the trade now, according to sheep factories.
Serious labour shortages at the country's meat slaughtering plants is curtailing the beef industry's capacity to return to full production in the wake of the recent farmer protests.
A surge in cattle numbers in the marts is forecast this week as the lifting of the factory blockades feeds back along the supply chain.
"This has been our Brexit" said one factory/farmer agent I met at the Ploughing last week. He was referring to the fallout from the recent factory protests, where trade at all levels was seriously disrupted.
Both Brendan Egan of Castlerea Mart and Maurice Brosnan of Gortatlea feel that the factory protests are starting to have a noticeable effect on the mart trade.
The men with factory sheep to sell continue to encounter problems in getting their produce away.
'Cattle are coming earlier and are 50kgs heavier than this time last year," said Michael Harty of Central Auctions in Birr, Roscrea and Nenagh. Those are the positives at present.
Billy Loftus of Ballina Mart told me he is beginning to see the weather impact his trade. "We've had a lot of rain over the last few weeks and our last sale was 10pc bigger than the same sale last year. Lads are moving a bit earlier as a result, I think."
As summer slips by and we head into the autumn, I wondered what monetary value do you put on a year that has given us exceptional grass growth.
THE resumption of farmer protests outside factory gates yesterday morning came as a surprise to many in the farming community. Indeed, some of those I spoke with who have cattle ready to sell were cautious about welcoming a return to militant action.
Our price table yet again contains no information on prices from either Dawn Ballyhaunis or Kepak Athleague prompting one observer to comment that there is "an east-west divide".
Top-quality steers, heifers and cull cows have taken the greatest price hit over the past 12 months, according to figures from the Department of Agriculture.
After two weeks of disruption due to farmer protests, full factory operations resumed on Monday last week, with that day's kill reaching 9,836hd.
I asked Stephen Hannon of Ballymote to gaze into his mart crystal ball over the weekend.
"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing and is as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical," was the verdict of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States.
YESTERDAY saw a gradual return to normality after a very difficult seven days where a number of dual-purpose plants - factories that slaughter both sheep and cattle - either closed or were operating on reduced numbers due to the Beef Plan protest.
There isn't any good news on the mart front this week.
As we went to press yesterday there were unconfirmed reports that ICM was now paying 40c/kg above their base price of €4.60/kg to individuals and producer groups. If true this means the top of the market is now at €5.00/kg.
Questioned as to whether the pickets currently outside beef plants will continue Beef Plan joint national chairman, Hugh Doyle, said over the weekend that the organisation intended to "scale up protests".
If you're a beef finisher or suckler farmer, Professor John Fitzgerald's comments about protecting the dairy sector are about as inflammatory as it gets.
Yesterday's protest by the Beef Plan Movement outside the Dawn Meats plant in Granagh south Kilkenny showed the organisations members to be very determined.
While the mart trade for stores roars ahead - with some sales seeing prices pushing right up to €90/hd, which is factory territory - actual factory quotes for lamb yesterday tumbled.
Trade continues to be very difficult. Reports from across the country yesterday indicated that a base price of €3.50/kg for bullocks has become the norm, with indications that the ABP group were attempting to pull weaker sellers back to €3.45/kg.
Despite reports of some positivity in the sale for better-quality stores, the trade for bullocks and heifers overall continues to plough downwards.
The difficulties in the beef sector intensified this week as factories pulled prices across the board by 5c/kg or €15-20/hd.
The numbers keep coming, with last week's kill at 34,817, enabling factories to further squeeze prices.
Each mart manager or auctioneer I have talked to over the last week has spoken of an air of despondency among their clients. Mart managers note many things as they go about their business, and when the mood music changes, they notice.
Factory prices for sheep continue to melt, like an ice-cream cone in the July heat. Like that ice cream cone, the factories continue to bleed the value out of the farmers' lambs. What official quotes were available yesterday showed lambs to be back another 10-15c/kg.
Factory prices remain under pressure. However - with the kill figures last week coming in at 34,650 - are there signs that the possibility of further downward pressure might be easing?
There is still no good news on the factory price front.
Dairy herds and cattle dealers won't be eligible for any of the €100m beef fund, according to the Department's proposal on the distribution of the fund.
Twelve months ago, we were in the middle of the longest dry spell in living memory - the long hot summer of 2018.
Last Saturday's sheep sale marked the 30th anniversary of Mountbellew Mart, which spurred me to look at figures from the late '80s.
The mart trade seemed to be free-wheeling downhill last week, and things have got worse, with weanling bulls and heifers mostly shedding money at a really alarming rate.
"The job is not getting any better," one factory agent told me this week.
John O'Hanlon of Ballymahon mart says trade is to some extent "freewheeling". Freewheeling in the days when I owned a bicycle usually meant you were on a downward slope and you could rest a bit.
The sheep trade continues to be under pressure.
My probing on prices brought this response from one factory agent yesterday: "As long as you can buy a cooked chicken for €6 to feed a family, beef will be forever too dear."
With grass continuing to grow very well across the country, marts also continue to see strong demand from farmers for stock to help manage that extra growth.
While ICM have pulled their quote for lamb by 10c/kg to €5.40/kg plus bonuses, Kildare Chilling remained unchanged yesterday at €5.60+10c/kg QA, with Moyvalley coming in at €5.50/kg.
"If God did not want them sheared, He would not have made them sheep."
My daughter Emily returns this week from her trip to Tanzania, where she and a group from her school were involved in a rural building project.
Reports from various marts around the country indicate that sheep prices are rising, with factories being forced to follow.
Strong supply numbers continue to dominate all discussions around factory prices.
Barney O'Connell of Listowel and George Candler of Kilkenny both mention a drop in the quality of stock coming under their hammers in my mini mart reports this week.
Prices at the factory gate appeared to be under further pressure yesterday with some quotes from agents back another 5c/kg on last week.
It is hard to judge whether last week's farmer meetings with various sheep processors around the country has yielded anything tangible on prices for producers.
After the previous week's general drop in prices, the latest figures contain more bad news.
Quotes for spring lamb remained steady yesterday as factories appeared to consider the supply and market situation.
Factory prices for stock have gone into reverse. Quotes for bullocks yesterday ranged from €3.90-3.95/kg, with that higher figure touted as being "hard got".
IFA met with senior management in Irish Country Meats in Camolin, Co Wexford this week and demanded the factories stabilise and restore lamb prices and stop undermining the market with price cuts.
Factory prices appeared to have stabilised after their recent resurgence. Yesterday I could find no agent willing to push beyond €4.00/kg for bullocks and €4.10/kg for heifers.
Heifers continued to improve last week building on their steady performance of two weeks ago. Fourteen days ago the majority of heifers on our Ringside table saw small price improvements.
The squeeze on supplies continues with last week's kill reaching just 29,641. The general run of quotes yesterday morning saw bullocks on €3.90/kg, with heifers at €4.00/kg.
"Factories have sheep-men in a headlock." The words of one sheep farmer yesterday on the current relationship between factories and their suppliers. And "headlock" it is in relation to prices, with quotes for everything from ewes to hoggets to lambs less yesterday than a week ago.
The optimism of a month ago when those with lambs to sell were convinced that with Easter in the offing and Ramadan to follow prices for lamb and hogget must surely improve were dealt another blow yesterday morning as quotes remained yet again static.
The united line on factory prices, such a feature of the factory trade since late last year, has continued to fracture as the search by agents for fit stock has increased competition.
For those of you waiting for good news on the sheep price front, I'm afraid all I have to offer today is that the majority of prices are no worse than they were last week.
Factory prices are on the rise. Bullocks were reported as selling over the weekend generally for €3.75-3.85/kg, with some sellers unwilling to discuss anything below €3.90/kg.
Before getting into factory prices, a word of caution to all who work with cattle. I had another report over the weekend of an incident on a farm where an aged stock bull charged its owner.
The Kepak Athleague quote for hoggets fell last week by 15c/kg, while Kildare Chilling dropped their hogget quote by 10c/kg.
A month ago, this column reported how mart managers noted that some of those ringside appeared to have no fear of where the Irish cattle trade might go post March 29, the then date for the UK to exit the EU.
After a jump of up to 30c/kg last week for hoggets some factory bosses returned after their weekend break yesterday in a less than positive mood and slashed their quotes by 10-15c/kg.
Easter is the great Christian celebration of hope, the time when we are told that provided we have led good and righteous lives, we can look forward to eternal life in the hereafter.
The push by summer grazers to acquire adequate numbers saw more upward pressure on the majority of Ringside bullock categories.
Figures from Bord Bia show that to the end of March throughput at our major sheep plants was back 14.2pc or 94,145 hd on the same period in 2018.
This week's quotes for bullocks and heifers see no improvement, with their prices continuing on €3.70 and €3.80/kg respectively.
Milk production is on target to top eight billion litres this year, with deliveries to some processors up 12-13pc in the first quarter compared to 2018.
Farmers involved in dairy calf-to-beef production will have to be paid a minimum of €4.05/kg into the hand to make a margin of €200/hd on calves bought this spring.
Back when I was a boy, the space race between the USA and USSR was gripping stuff.
Permanent CCTV camera surveillance and weighing scales on kill lines should be installed in factories, it has been urged.
There was a difference of opinion among the farm organisations about factory prices yesterday morning.
Farmers have reacted furiously as factory quotes for bullocks and heifers, and bulls in some places, slipped another 5c/kg this week .
Brexit uncertainties and stagnant beef prices failed to derail the store cattle trade in the marts over the last week, as strong demand for quality stock continued to underpin the market.
The sheep trade on the factory side continues exactly as it did last week.
The UK government's attempts to sabotage the Irish cattle trade with threats of chronically high tariffs should be seen, in my opinion, for what they were - a crude attempt to turn Irish beef into a political bargaining chip.
Later today we may, or we may not, have some clear indication of how Britain intends to proceed with Brexit as MPs gather for another vote on the matter.
Factory prices remain unchanged for the majority of farmers and feeders, with heifers on a €3.85/kg base and bullocks on €3.75/kg.
The most rapidly expanding section of beef production continues to be bull beef. But it's also the sector that has been hardest hit by the Brexit impact on beef prices with farmers facing the double-whammy of low payments and difficulty getting cattle killed.
The story of the cattle trade in recent days is one of increased numbers. Some were reporting close to record entries for this time of year.
Official quotes for lamb were easier at some plants yesterday by 5-10c/kg as factories continued to take their combined feet off the price accelerator.
The model for the production of meaningful numbers of better conformation, grass-fed beef bullocks in this country is broken.
Intense competition between farmers and shippers - and continuing strong grass growth - has helped keep a floor under cattle prices over the last week, despite marts reporting massive entries.
Prices for poor quality and younger calves out of the dairy herd have taken a major hit over the last week as difficulties in the shipping sector have intensified.
Your typical Irish beef farmer must feel a bit like a front-row in a scrum at the moment: head down, driving forward, apparently oblivious to life outside his immediate concerns and surroundings.
A bull and heifer finisher from the south east gave me some revealing information over the weekend about where his prices are at for in-spec stock.
The story in the sheep trade is that numbers appear to have tightened at both the factory and mart gate as farmers concentrate on keeping a close eye on the lambing.
Beef farmers are continuing to count their losses as it emerged Irish finishers received €85 a head less than British farmers in recent weeks amid mounting Brexit uncertainty.
Despite last week's factory kill being 37,116, once you exclude the 1,095 calves slaughtered, prices appeared to be no better or worse this week than they were last week.
Lively competition among grass finishers has pushed on prices for stores by €40 to €100/hd, despite the continuing concerns over low prices in the beef trade.
The trade for sheep appears to have levelled off, with factory quotes for lambs remaining unchanged from last week. Dawn, ICM and Kepak held their official base quotes steady at €5.20/kg plus various bonuses.
I'm not going to pretend there is any real good news on the factory price front. Bullocks and heifers remain the same price as they have for weeks: €3.75/kg and €3.85/kg respectively.
Finishers are finding it extremely difficult to get young bulls killed, with some facing a six-week wait, it has emerged.
At first glance, the sheep trade continues to push on well, with Kepak Athleague yesterday raising their quote by 15c/kg to €5.20+ 15c/kg QA.
Prices for bullocks and heifers remain fixed in recent days week at €3.75 and €3.85/kg respectively.
A 10-20pc drop in cattle numbers in the marts has been reported over the last week as poor factory prices and the continuing Brexit debacle in Britain fuels uncertainty in the trade.