Farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated and angered at the latest factory antics in relation to beef prices.

The UK market has raced ahead again this week, with beef prices rising by as much as 10c/kg for some finishers.

A surge in retail demand across the water and a reduced supply of finished cattle has led to a perfect storm for British beef finishers, with prices now heading for the equivalent of €5.20/kg when VAT is included.

Big demand for beef north of the border has also meant bigger numbers are moving that direction in the last week for both further feeding and direct slaughter.

Back home, bullocks continue to be quoted at €3.80/kg to €3.85/kg. Heifers are being quoted at €3.85/kg to €3.90/kg. I have heard of a few farmers getting a €3.95/kg base for choice heifers.

The only exception this week seems to be for retail-spec Aberdeen Angus stock, with a number of factories scrambling for supplies of suitable stock.

Flat deals of up to €4.15/kg for O and R grades have been paid this week. There also appears to be more bite in the western half the country this week for finished cattle.

Bulls are being quoted at €3.80/kg to €3.85/kg for R grades, while U grading bulls are moving at €3.90/kg to €3.95/kg. Under-16-month bulls are being quoted at €3.80/kg to €3.85/kg base.

P grading cows are being quoted at €3.15/kg in some factories, with more going if there are numbers of well-fleshed cows involved.

O grading cows are on €3.25/kg to €3.35/kg for good O grades. R grades are being quoted between €3.50/kg and €3.65/kg for good-quality well-fleshed suckler-bred cows.

The advice is to dig in, shop around and demand a higher price. Finished cattle numbers are tight. The NI, British and EU beef price is improving all the time and the thinking is that Irish factories will only be able to hold out for so much longer. UK food service reopening will likely increase demand further, so farmers need to capitalise on this.

If we look at beef markets since 6 February 2021, the Irish steer price has decreased by 1c/kg from €4.03/kg to €4.02/kg ex-VAT. The EU young bull price has improved by 4c/kg from €3.91 to €3.96/kg, while the UK steer price has improved by 19c/kg, up from €4.61/kg to €4.80/kg over the same period.

Looking at the Bord Bia prime beef market tracker, the price differential between Irish and our main export markets continues to be 12c/kg.

Looking at R3 heifer prices in our main export destinations, French R3 heifers are coming in at €4.37/kg, while Italian R3 heifers are being paid out at €4.57/kg incl VAT, while English R3 heifers are at €4.85/kg.

The average price for Irish R3 heifers that week was €4.07/kg. Given these differentials, it’s hard to believe how we are only 12c/kg behind on the tracker.

Last week’s kill came in at 30,823 excluding veal, up from the previous week’s four-day kill figure of 29,125 excluding veal.

NI comment

Beef prices are on the rise in Northern Ireland and deals of 390p/kg (€4.78/kg inc VAT) are much more widely available on prime cattle when compared to previous weeks.

At the upper end of the market, there is 2p to 4p/kg more available to farmers with bigger numbers. Base quotes are lagging well behind prices on offer at 374p/kg (€4.58/kg) for U-3 grading animals.

With supplies tight, deals are being made on out-of-spec cattle just to secure throughput. Cull cows are also an improving trade, with base quotes rising to 290p/kg (€3.55/kg) for R3 grading cows and deals of 310p/kg (€3.80/kg) widely available.