The latest figures from the Department of Agriculture for the week ending 24 May 2020 show 155,441 cattle exported live from Ireland for the year-to-date. As Table 1 details, this represents a sharp fall-off compared to 2019 levels, with total bovine numbers running 47,364 head lower.

As Figure 1 shows, the reduction in exports coincided with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across Europe. The pandemic had the greatest effect on the calf trade. The number of calves exported live for the first 21 weeks of the year stands at 120,498 head, a drop of 48,067 head on the corresponding period in 2019.

Live calf export numbers recorded a reduction in almost all of the main market destinations with the exception of Belgium. This is reflected in Figure 2.

The Dutch market was the worst hit, with live calf exports falling 31,255 head to 48,426. The Dutch veal industry was hit hard by the closure of food service outlets across Europe, with demand from food service providers underpinning demand. With markets under pressure and stocks backing up, confidence was hit. This compounded a slow start to the year for live calf exports, with weather affecting several sailings.

Live exports to Spain reduced by 9,029 head to match numbers heading to the Netherlands at 48,345. Italy and France also recorded a high percentage drop of 40% and 55%, respectively. Poland came on to the scene as a market for calves in late 2018 and developed into a significant outlet in 2019. Numbers exported there so far in 2020 reduced by 40% or 1,961 head. Belgium is the only country that recorded an increase in live calf exports, with volumes moving there increasing 1,405 head to 4,044.