Prices strong and improving for new year

With a number of marts not back in action until next week, this week’s report is a little shorter than normal.

2013 sees the trade open up much as it closed in 2012, strong and improving.

However, concerns about the supply of feed and its price continue to hover just below the surface.

Beginning in Kanturk and their sale on Tuesday, where Michael Scanlon said, “We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout, it wasn’t a huge sale, but more than we expected.”

Prices were “broadly in line” with the pre-Christmas market, Michael said. Looking at the sheets, you could argue they may have even improved in places.

Michael reckons farmers as a whole are “happy enough” at present, because the weather has settled into a reasonable pattern and beef prices remain strong.

A side effect of the poor summer and the requirement for more concentrate feeding than normal is noticeable: “Stock look very well for the day of the year, as a result of the extra ration,” Michael said.

The cost of extra feeding is, of course, the issue that may yet bite, but I do wonder if a return to more mixed farm enterprises should not be encouraged to some degree on all farms, as a way of easing feeding costs, and also breaking Irish farmers out of monoculture cycles.

Moving to the sale at Bandon on Monday, where Tom McCarthy said, “It was a small sale, but with a very good turnout of dry cows.”

“Bullocks were maintained, but dry cows were a very good trade, and they went on very well,” Tom said.

He reckons that as 2013 begins, farmers are already beginning to plan “to straighten out those extra costs brought forward from 2012”.

He is correct, I believe, when he says, “Men like to have the reassurance of that little bit of extra fodder in reserve, and you could see extra ground being stopped during the year”.

The effect on the mart trade and the cattle trade as a whole of the summer of 2012 will be felt long into 2013, Tom believes.

“You could see the plainer bullock get a reality check as the year goes on,” Tom says. “Lads will continue to feed the good bullock, because they can see a return, but with ration where it is, the plainer ones could suffer”. Add to this his speculation on extra ground being stopped for silage, and some farmers easing off in numbers as they build up their reserves — possible factors that could further hit the price of the plainer animal later on.

Although Mid Tipp Mart in Thurles did not have a sale this week — they’re back on Monday — I contacted mart manager Martin Ryan for his thoughts on the year to come.

“I expect the trade to remain strong,” Martin said. Given the huge number of cows culled last year, as the weather and feed prices bit, Martin expects replacement heifers to be “a good trade”, but predicts, “Calved heifers could develop into a serious trade”, as the milking season gets under way in earnest and the dairymen begin to replace those culled cows.

Trade in bullocks in the short term, Martin says, may be dominated by a continued strong demand for forward stores. “Due to feed costs, feeders and finishers may well continue to go for them in preference to anything else, because they can turn them quicker.”

Moving to Corrin on Tuesday, where Sean Leahy was in good form as he told me, “We had a good turnout and a very good start for the first sale of the year”.

Although bullock numbers weren’t big and the quality was a bit “variable”, as Sean put it, “trade for them was good.”

The cow trade was improved — a reflection of the continued improvement in prices for beef at the factories. “They were dearer alright, and they looked better, probably to do with the fact that the ones we had were dried off since before Christmas,” Sean said.

Sample prices at Corrin for cull cows included one Friesian of 750 kilos making €1,180, and a lighter 538 kilo Friesian making €920. The first showing of calves at Corrin for 2013 saw the lighter Friesian bulls make €180 a piece, while the stronger Friesian calves could push 300 on the day. Hereford and Angus heifers made from €180 to €350, with Continental bulls making up to €445 a piece.

Philip Healy of Tralee Mart told me that although they were not in action this week, there had been plenty in the media about the cattle trade this week to keep the farmers of Kerry keenly interested, namely the proposed reopening of the Libyan trade (see my column next door).

“There has been a lot of talk about the Waterford boat and how it will work. Men are very interested to see how it might play out,” he said.

Moving to his general feelings on the prospects for 2013: “I expect the trade to remain strong well into the spring,” he said.

Returning to the “Waterford boat”, he wondered about how easy it may or may not be to fill it, given the time of year and the fact that the Libyans appeared at the moment to be intent on ignoring Friesian cattle. “If it goes, and if others go, it will have to affect the trade for the better,” Philip concluded.

To Kilmallock next, where the beginning of 2013 had Denis Kirby in positive mood. Although the 446 animals present on Monday represented only a fraction of the numbers in the run-up to Christmas, Denis pointed out that it still represented a 33% increase on the same week last year.

Prices were definitely in line with and in many cases improved since before Christmas. Bullocks pushed €2.21 a kilo on occasion, with heifers making up to €2.68 a kilo.

“We had plenty of men to buy but demand was such that some couldn’t even get a look in,” Denis said.

The big turnout of weanlings at Kilmallock saw Friesians make up to €1.61 a kilo, while some of the top end stock made €2.56 a kilo. Prices in between reflected breed and quality, with some that might suit the buyers for that “Waterford boat” making around the €2 to €2.40 a kilo mark.

Although Tom Harrington of Enniscorthy described his sale of 200 animals on Tuesday as “not big”, it was still represented a very sizeable number for the day of the year.

“Prices were on fire, particularly for beef and the forward store,” Tom said.

He pointed to a couple of lots of heavier Charolais that made €1,100 with the weight (700kg made €1,800, and 770kg made €1,870).

I assumed they were bought by factory men, “Not at all, they were bought by finishers for further feeding,” Tom revealed. He speculated that they probably will fall into the ‘quick turn around’ category.

Enniscorthy had a special entry of Saler maiden heifers on Tuesday with prices ranging from €880 to €990, average weights were around the 380kg mark, with Tom commenting, “The black ones probably got on a bit better than the red ones”.

Cull cows continue to appear down Wexford way as they do everywhere else in surprising numbers — or maybe not so surprising because their owners decide to limit their high feeding costs only to those animals that have a realistic spring milking potential.

And there you have it.

2013 is under way in a majority but not all marts up and down the country this week, with prices continuing as they did in 2012, strong and improving.

And the hope is that similarities with 2012 will stop at that.

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