UK farmers told beware of cheaper Irish beef

UK farmers told beware of cheaper Irish beef
British beef farmers warned to be ready for a big supply of cheap beef from Ireland

British farmers enjoying a price jump for cattle have been told to beware of cheap Irish beef.

The post-coronavirus recovery of Ireland’s beef throughputs could cast uncertainty over the recent strong rally in cattle prices in Great Britain, according to the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

In sharp contrast to the British price gains, prime beef cattle prices in Ireland haven’t budged for the past six weeks.

AHDB said Ireland’s beef sector was particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, due to its reliance on exports to UK and European foodservice markets. The latest trade statistics, for April, showed Irish beef exports in April were down 35% to the EU and 18% to the UK year-on-year, due to the pandemic.

As a result of lower foodservice demand, and furloughing of abattoir staff, Irish cattle throughput has been heavily reduced of late, by nearly 25% in some weeks during the height of the pandemic, said AHDB. “This means that, currently, Irish abattoirs are around 37,000 head behind where they were for cattle slaughter at the same week last year, meaning there is still a substantial backlog of cattle to work through.

“Supplies will likely be plentiful for some time.”

Tighter cattle supplies in Great Britain had boosted prices for their farmers.

AHDB said British cattle throughputs have been recovering in June, as abattoir capacity returned to normal, and the UK and European foodservice sector slowly reopened.

“However, Irish cattle prices have not risen as far as GB prices have in the last few weeks, suggesting that any supplies that do come our way are likely to be more price-competitive.”

Already farmers in Northern Ireland are feeling the effects of cheaper cattle from the south which now make up 8-9% of their weekly prime beef kill, and about 11% of their cow kill. Southern steers are about 8% cheaper, and cows 14% cheaper, compared to prices in Northern Ireland.

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