The year 2023 started off with really positive sentiment. After a tough enough autumn of 2022, the beef trade took a turn at the end of November 2022 and kept on rising at a slow and steady pace until May 2023. Lower numbers of animals purchased for winter finishing meant that factories were left short in the spring of 2023, and with supplies not meeting demand, the price of finished cattle went up. The average Irish R3 bullock price in 2023 was €5.23/kg, the average UK R3 bullock price was €5.81 in 2023, while the average EU R3 young bull price in 2023 came in at €5.23/kg.

The second half of the year was a disappointing one in terms of beef price. The peroid from May to November 2023 saw a reduction of 60 cent/kg or €210/head on finished animals. A slight improvement was seen in the last few weeks of 2023 and this positive momentum has continued in the early weeks of 2024. The ban on Irish beef going into China in November was a blow to Ireland’s plans to build relationships with Chinese beef importers and consumers, but thankfully the lock-out was short-lived, with access granted in January 2024.

Numbers down

The 2023 kill was back just over 40,000 head compared to the 2022 kill, with the prime cattle kill seeing the biggest fall of 45,769 head, a drop of 4%, while the cow kill saw an increase of 1% in 2023, up 4,861 head in 2023. The number of young bulls killed in 2023 was down 15,000 head, heifers were back 10,000 head, while the bullock kill was back by 20,000. A similar reduction of 2%, or between 30-40k, is forecast for the 2024 kill.

The year 2023 saw a rise in the number of animals being slaughtered at fat score 2, an 8% rise between 2021 and 2023. The last 12 months had also seen the highest ever proportion of P-grade cows at 65%. The proportion of steers grading a fat score 3 has also dropped 3% in 2023. Carcase weights also continued to drop as a result of younger finishing ages, a higher proportion of the national kill coming from the dairy herd and an increase in the cow kill in 2023.

Steers saw a 4kg drop, heifer carcase weights were back 5kg, young bulls back 10kg, cows back 8kg and bulls back 8kg. The average cow carcase weight in 2023 came in at 295kg. The total Irish cattle kill reduced by 2% in 2023, just over 40,000 head.

Export performance

Beef exports to the UK saw the largest increase in 2023, up 10% in value in 2023 and now account for 47% of beef exports. The European market reduced by 2% in value in 2023, making up 47% of Irish beef exports in 2023. International beef exports stood at 5% in 2023, a reduction of 24% in 2023.

Looking to 2024, it all looks very positive. Lower beef production in the EU and the UK should help the Irish trade. The only cause for concern is that beef imports into the EU are forecast to be up by 5% in 2024, with all eyes on Australia and what volumes they will push to the UK market in 2024. High live exports in 2023 and a positive outlook for live exports for 2024 should help underpin the finished trade for the next two years.