There is a little more positivity in the trade this week, with evidence that a price rise is just around the corner.

Some factories have had to move quotes up 5c to 10c/kg this week to get cattle.

Some factories have managed to hold quotes at €3.70/kg for bullocks and €3.75/kg for heifers, but hard sellers have been able to squeeze more and €3.80/kg is being paid for heifers in some plants.

Next week seems to be a different story, with several agents reporting that procurement managers are anxious for cattle and especially inquisitive as to what cattle were in sheds being fed for finish in the next six weeks.

They’ll do well to find any shed-loads of cattle, as numbers are still reported to be very tight on the ground.

Finished cattle have also dwindled in supply in marts, with mart managers reporting very low numbers of fat cattle coming into mart rings.

The bull trade remains similar to last week, with €3.70/kg being paid for R grading bulls and €3.75/kg to €3.80/kg for U grading bulls.

Under-16-month bulls are working off €3.70/kg to €3.75/kg base price on the grid.

Cows remain in good demand. P grading cows are working off €2.95/kg to €3.05/kg, O grading cows are working off €3.05/kg to €3.15/kg, while R grading calls are working off €3.30/kg.

Some specialist cow purchasers are paying up to €3.40/kg for heavy suckler cows.

Last week’s kill came in at 30,430 excluding veal slaughtering. This was up 650 on the week before, but is still a long way off the 36,623 cattle killed in the same week last year.

So far this year, there have been 25,122 fewer cattle killed compared with 2020.

Retail demand for beef in Britain shows no sign of slowing down and this has driven demand for cattle.

In the year to 24 January 2021, British consumer purchases of beef increased by 12.4% in volume, with spend up 15.5%.

This is a positive for Irish beef. When there is extra demand that cannot be met by UK beef, Ireland will be the source of supply.

Irish beef is especially strong in food service channels and the news about UK plans to reopen outdoor hospitality in April will be a welcome boost to ROI beef factories supplying these channels.

Beef prices in the Ireland (NI) were £3.83/kg for R3 steers for week ending 13 February, which is the equivalent of €4.67/kg incl VAT when converted to euro at an exchange rate of 86p=€1.

This is 68c/kg better than Irish prices, which averaged €3.99/kg for R3 grades in the same week, working out at over €250 per head more on a 380kg steer.

Elsewhere in the EU, current strong beef markets are Germany, where an R3 young bull averaged €4.21/kg incl VAT for week ending 13 February, and Italy, where the average was €4.09/kg.

NI comment

The trade for finished cattle in Northern Ireland has steadied, with plants holding base quotes at 370p/kg (€4.53/kg inc VAT) for U-3 grading animals.

Quotes fall short of the prices being offered to farmers, with in-spec steers moving at 380p/kg (€4.65/kg) and 2p to 4p/kg more on offer for regular sellers.

Prime heifers are moving at 384p/kg (€4.70/kg), with more on offer for butcher-type animals.

Numbers are showing signs of tightening and agents are more active for stock.

Cull cows remain on a quote of 275p/kg (€3.37/kg), but price deals range from 300p to 320p/kg (€3.67 to €3.92/kg) depending on quality.