Last year will go down as positive for beef prices. The average beef price increased by 44c/kg in 2021 compared to 2020 to settle at €4.30/kg for 2021.
Supply and demand has been one of the main reasons we saw a shift in price in 2021 and while numbers will recover somewhat this year, the tightness in supply will remain until June/July 2022.
The Irish kill was back 90,000 head on 2020 and we expect to see a recovery of between 60,000 and 70,000 cattle in 2022.
Present indications are that markets will remain steady for much of 2022 with no shocks on the horizon.
Eyes will remain on China as to whether the Irish beef ban will be lifted in 2022. Other important emerging markets in 2022 will be southern Asia, South Korea and the Philippines.
If we cast our minds back to the panic in the run-up to Christmas 2020, there was a big push to get beef into the UK prior to the 31 December deadline for fear of tariffs being imposed on exports had a deal not been brokered.
Further lockdowns across the UK, Europe and at home in Ireland also depressed the food service trade and meant that factories were able to keep a lid on prices until early March
A deal was got over the line at the last minute, however, due to the fact that product had been shifted across. This left some overhang in the market during the first few weeks of 2021. This led to a sluggish beef trade for much of January.
Further lockdowns across the UK, Europe and at home in Ireland also depressed the food service trade and meant that factories were able to keep a lid on prices until early March.
The UK trade lifted in March and saw the UK R3 steer price lift from €4.50/kg to €4.90/kg in the space of four weeks.
April, May and June saw the Irish beef price also increase on the back of reduced supplies and increasing demand.
NI agents were also very active for short-keep cattle during this time, with big numbers travelling north all summer for slaughter and further feeding.
October saw the announcement from Asda that it would not be stocking Irish beef on its shelves for the future.
This came as a shock to the industry and its recent announcement of reverting back to Irish supplies was met with equal relief.
The young bull kill stabilised in 2021. It was still back 10,000 head to 129,844, but is showing tentative signs of recovery in early 2022.
The bullock kill was back 18,000 head to 674,000, while the heifer kill saw the biggest drop, back by just under 40,000 head to 479,000 head.
Cows were back by just over 10,000 head. The cow trade took a big lift in price towards the end of 2022. Very strong manufacturing beef sales drove the cow price to as high as €4.10/kg for R grading cows at the end of December and that positivity has continued into the 2022 trade with smaller wholesalers still very active for good cows in the last few weeks.
All the price positivity is on the back of huge increases in input costs for livestock farmers and 2022, despite the better beef price, will go down as yet another year where winter finishers won’t cover their costs to leave a margin.