Signs of weakening market as the grass beef supply picks up early

Beef prices are holding steady at factories this week.
Signs of weakening market as the grass beef supply picks up early
At last Thursday's online Bandon Mart sale, three Simmental bullocks of 533kg which were sold for €1,070. Picture: Denis Boyle
At last Thursday's online Bandon Mart sale, three Simmental bullocks of 533kg which were sold for €1,070. Picture: Denis Boyle

Beef prices are holding steady at factories this week.

But the beef sector is awash with rumours that prices are about to come under pressure, and the short run of improved prices may be about to come to an end.

The strongest definite indicator so far is that getting to the higher level of prices paid in recent weeks for either steers or heifers has become close to impossible this week.

Also, for the third consecutive week, cow prices have slipped.

The cow price is often the barometer for trends in prime beef prices.

Meanwhile, excellent farming conditions for April and May are already delivering cattle off the grass.

It has been the earliest season for grass-finished cattle in a number of years, after the driest spring in nearly a century and a half in some areas of the country.

The lack of rain may yet disrupt the beef supply, if drought conditions spread.

The strongest market positive is that increasing demand for beef on the home and export markets, which lifted prices for cattle at factories in recent weeks, has continued.

However, as the supply of beef cattle increases (and demand may fall if a summer heatwave continues), there will be less pressure on processors to get sufficient cattle to meet demand.

There was a further sharp rise in intake at the factories last week, which has eased any pressure on requirements aiding the tightening in prices.

The supply increase was confirmed in the past week, with the total kill topping 31,000 head for the first time in weeks, although it was still 3,700 head less than the same week last year.

Steers dominated last week’s supply, at 10,349 head, a few hundred head more than in 2019, with heifers at 9,162 head was just shy of the 2019 level.

The supply of cows continued strong at 8,203 head while young bulls at 2,779 head were well back on 2019.

The overall intake year to date is now down by 40,000 head on the corresponding period in 2019.

Quoted steer base prices have generally settled on 355 cents/kg, with up to 360 cents/kg being paid on a sizeable percentage of the kill for this week, some of which had been bought forward last week.

Finishers say they are meeting a stonewall refusal to pay over 360 cents/kg this week for steers.

Heifer prices are level with steer prices, but with a shade more leeway at the top, which is delivering up to 365 cents/kg base to hard sellers.

Young bulls are priced at 5-10 cents/kg under steer prices.

Prices for cows are hardest hit, making it very difficult to reach 300 cents/kg for good quality Rs this week, while prices for Ps are in a 260-270 cents/kg range.

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