2021 will go down as a positive year for beef prices. Strong demand in the UK and right across Europe meant that factories were really anxious for cattle from March 2021 onwards.

If we cast our minds back to this time last year, Irish factories were stockpiling beef product in the UK ahead of a potential hard Brexit on 1 January 2021. Thankfully, that didn’t materialise and a deal was struck.

However, the stockpiling did leave an overhang of product that took January to work through. January is always a slow month for beef sales anyway, so this led to a depressed trade for January and February 2021.


Lockdowns across Europe and the UK also meant food service demand dropped in the first two months of 2021.

March saw an increase in price across all categories, with a steady rise until the end of July.

Grass cattle then put a lid on more increases until November, when the price started to creep up very slowly again.

The year finished off with heifers being paid out at €4.30/kg to €4.35/kg and bullocks making €4.25/kg to €4.30/kg.

The average R3 steer price for 2021 was €4.28/kg. This compared with €3.83/kg in 2020, €3.80/kg in 2019, €4.06/kg in 2018 and €4.04/kg in 2017.

Room for improvement

The prime Irish composite price has finished up the year at €4.40/kg, 13c/kg behind the prime export composite price at €4.53/kg, which means there is still room for improvement in the Irish beef price, given the way our main export markets are performing.

We are likely to see a recovery of around 50,000 head in 2022

The Irish kill will be back 80,000 head in 2021. This follows on from an increase in the 2020 kill by 40,000 head. The national kill stood at 1.64 million animals by 17 December 2021, compared with 1.72 million animals for the same period in 2020.

Bord Bia has estimated that we are likely to see a recovery of around 50,000 head in 2022 as a result of lower live exports in 2020 and a growing national herd.

Beef supply is expected to be tight for the first half of 2022, with extra numbers coming on board in the second half of the year.

There also appears to be an eagerness among procurement managers for stock for April, May and June. This time has traditionally been a slack time of year for cattle supply.

Non-existent margins

Winter finisher margins have been non-existent in recent years and many smaller finishers have exited the business, leaving a gap in supply at that time of year.

Spring-born under-16-month bulls had plugged some of this gap, but poor processor sentiment to bulls has also meant farmers have moved away from this production system, leaving a gap in May/June supplies.

Global beef prices have finished 2021 in a very strong position. Across Europe, young bull prices have averaged close to €4.70/kg. The UK average steer price has also remained very strong at €5.13/kg.

Australian beef prices have continued to remain strong at €4.88/kg in recent weeks and are expected to stay strong for much of 2022.

The recent news that China has opened up again for Brazilian beef imports is welcome news and this will help take pressure off beef global markets. There was a risk that Brazil could have looked elsewhere for export markets which would have included the European market.

It’s very disappointing that the Irish Government is unable to make any progress in the reopening of the Chinese market for Irish beef.