Beef prices improved in December, but not in time to lift Ireland from ninth place, in R3 heifer price rankings across 16 EU countries.
To rub salt in the wounds of our beef farmers, the top-rated region in the rankings was Northern Ireland.
Compiled by the Livestock and Meat Commission in Northern Ireland, the EU deadweight cattle prices league table for the week ending December 8 showed farmers in the North getting 397.7c/kg for R3 heifers, up 14.4c in a month.
However, across the border in the south, farmers were getting only 350.4c, down 1.2c from a month previous.
The average price across the EU was 370.3c.
Aided by sterling currency gains, Northern Ireland jumped from sixth place in the league table to No 1, while prices south of the border stayed in ninth place, as in the previous month.
However, the R3 heifer price in Ireland fell further behind, to about €65 for a 330kg carcase less than the EU average, compared to a differential of only €56 a month earlier.
The farmgate R3 heifer price allows a useful comparison between deadweight cattle prices across the EU, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission in Northern Ireland.
Their league table revealed a huge differential of €156 for a 330kg carcase north and south of the Irish border, which widened from €105 a month earlier.
Despite the beef price gap, imports from the south for direct slaughter in the north were not increased, with less than 300 prime cattle and only about 90 cows going north per week in mid-December, similar to previous weeks.
While the southern Irish price fell, the average R3 heifer price in the EU increased by 1.9c/kg, to 370.3c/kg, boosted by strong increases in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but also by upward movement in Italy (plus 3c/kg), France (plus 2c/kg), and Spain (plus 4.9c/kg).
But R3 heifer prices fell in Luxembourg (by 13.7c/kg), Germany (0.5c/kg), Austria (3.1c/kg), and Denmark (1.2c/kg).
The year just ended has been “exceptionally challenging”, particularly for our top beef producers, said Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle, before Christmas.
“I cannot think of another year in recent times where our best-performing beef producers have had such a difficult situation,” Professor Boyle told the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.
Teagasc director of research Dr Frank O’Mara told the Committee that the current issue regarding dairy calves is more a beef price issue than a dairy calf issue.
If the price of beef was €4 or €4.50, then there would be no problem selling all the calves born in the country.
“The problem is we have a major profitability problem for every beef animal.”
And Professor Boyle said, “We all know that, prior to the introduction of the dairy quota, 80% of beef was sourced from the dairy herd.
“The percentage is now 60%, but it is growing.”