Gradual hardening of beef cattle prices continued at factories this week, due to pressure on processors to get sufficient stock.
The intake at plants continues to trail last year by about 4,000 head per week on average for the year to date, which is a significant slice off the throughput, more keenly felt because markets have continued to demand a strong supply of beef.
For the first 15 weeks of 2021, the supply has been down by a total of almost 60,000 head, compared to 2020, leaving processors competing more keenly for the reduced supply.
Quoted base prices for steers have increased to 395 cents/kg, with most processors having to pay 400 cents/kg to get the stock.
There are some reports of 405 cents/kg being successfully negotiated by finishers.
But it is not generally available, and appears to be confined to deals with some of the larger-scale finishers, or to situations where a factory is under extra pressure to get the stock.
Prices for heifers are at a quoted base of 400 cents/kg, but they generally change hands at 405 cents/kg and up to 410 cents/kg.
It is the third consecutive week of rising prices adding at least 15 cents/kg in total to returns, an increase urgently needed by finishers, many of whom still contend that higher prices are still needed for them to break even.
They are backed up by Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association claims that the gap between Irish and UK prices has more than doubled over the past three months, from 35 cents/kg to 72 cents/kg.
But processors say that it is not a like-for-like comparison.
Comparing Irish and UK prices has always been difficult because of the complexities of our trade with the largest export outlet for Irish beef.
But some further explaining is necessary when the price gap widens to €120/head for similar weight carcases. Prices being paid for young bulls have kept pace with the other categories, rising to around 5 cents/kg under the steer price.
Cow prices are at their strongest for a considerable time, with the better quality R-grade cows worth 360 cents/kg this week, and the price ranging from 350 to 360 cents/kg. O-grade cows are making 325-335 cents/kg and P-grade are generally in the 320-330 cents/kg range.
There was a slight recovery in intakes at factories last week to 30,390 head.
The kill included 11,340 steers, 8,966 heifers, 2,180 young bulls and 6,626 cows.