Beef prices continued to harden at factories this week, as pressure comes on processors to secure sufficient supply to meet market demands.
Quoted prices have increased by at least a further 5c/kg, with the rise in prices across all categories of stock, reflecting the supply deficit which has been building over the past number of weeks at factories.
The intake was back to 29,492 head for last week, with closures on the Easter Monday bank holiday taking their toll on intake.
The supply included 11,600 steers, and 8,494 heifers.
There were 2,166 young bulls, and 5,906 cows, with supply reduced across all categories.
The supply of cattle to factories since the start of the year has been down.
That was expected, from the statistics available.
On the other side, the market challenges, which had been expected as an outcome from Brexit, have not materialised very significantly, at least so far.
Nevertheless, the value of food and live animal imports to the UK is down 11% for the first two months of the year.
The vast majority of these declines are in imports from the EU, with meat and meat preparations, as well as vegetables and fruit, being particularly reduced.
However, imported products are more important in the UK’s food service sector than in its retail sector, and the UK’s path out of lockdown may lead to an increase in imports for food service.
That doesn’t seem to have overly affected the market demand for beef cattle in Ireland, which has been strong so far in 2021, and those who gambled on late spring beef finishing being a winner are reaping some benefit, albeit badly needed in order to leave a profit margin.
Beef cattle prices in the UK rose sharply over the past two months (up 18% over the past year), and Irish beef finishers have been asking why their returns didn’t increase pro rata with the lift in the UK.
Processors have pointed to additional administration procedures and associated costs which they have to carry since the exit of the UK from the EU customs union at the start of the year.
However, the beef trade is always unpredictable.
Forecasting the future pattern of demand and prices is hazardous and rarely accurate.
So it is only in the past month or so that finishers here have at last seen a gradual lift in prices, and a beef cattle supply deficit has strengthened their hand to demand a better price.
Steers are being quoted on a base of 385c-390c/kg this week with very few animals moving for less than 390c/kg, and some reports of deals returning up to 395c/kg.
Prices for heifers are quoted on a base of 390c-395c/kg, and they are generally selling at 395c-400c/kg.
Prices for young bulls have drawn close to parity with steer prices, with R-grade young bulls at 385c-395c/kg and some reports of up to 400c/kg being achieved.
The throughput of these animals continues to be relatively low.
The top price for cull cows varies regionally, with prices for R-grade cows in a 345c-360c/kg range.
In live exports, 70,093 calves left Ireland in the first three months of the year, which is 10% behind the same period in 2020, and 22% behind the same period in 2019.