Export statistics for August indicate that Irish beef shipments to the UK were down by 8% (or 1,100 tonnes), compared to last year. However, this was more than cancelled out by two other export customers.
The Philippines took 170% (or 1,200 tonnes) more than in August, 2019, and China took 340% more (or 600 tonnes). These figures confirm a 2019 trend of Irish beef exports increasing 11% year-on-year, with non-EU markets coming to the rescue, as sales to the UK fell.
Year-to-date beef imports in the UK, including August, were estimated to be down 16% in volume, and 18% in value. These figures are likely to increase, because of the shortage of Irish beef for export caused by farmer protests at factories.
Although protests at factories started at the end of July and continued to mid-September, they didn’t affect exports until September. Processors said up to 80% of their operating capacity was affected by blockades.
But in August, Irish beef exports totalled 30,900 tonnes, 8% (or 2,300 tonnes) higher than year-earlier levels, according to Irish customs data. It is in export results for September and October that the effect of protests will be seen.
Irish processing plants will need to operate at high capacity for some time to handle the backlog in beef ready for slaughter. Processors will hope that the consequent necessary recovery in exports will be helped by increased access to the Chinese market, facilitated by 14 extra Irish processing plants recently being granted access to export to China, bringing to 21 the number of processing plants with access.
How prices paid to farmers will develop is unpredictable. It was discouraging that prices languished in recent weeks, falling further behind prices in the UK, and the overall EU average beef price, despite the value of the euro falling from 94p on August 11 to 86p recently, which should have helped exports to the UK, which takes half of Ireland’s beef.
This week, IFA presidential candidate Tim Cullinan said Irish young bull prices in the week ended October 19 were 46c/kg behind the average EU price, equivalent to €165/head. He called on processors to increase all cattle prices immediately, and for an immediate focused campaign by Bord Bia to close the young bull price differential.