Ireland exported 472,000t of beef in 2020, which is down 3% on 2019 levels, the Bord Bia Meat Market Seminar heard on Friday morning.

The value of beef exports fell by 2% in 2020 based on 2019 levels.

The UK remains the largest market for Irish beef, taking 44% of all Irish beef exports in 2020.

The EU accounted for 44%, while international markets accounted for 11% of Irish beef exports.

In terms of international markets, growth was seen in the USA, Canada and the Philippines, with the latter accounting for €53m worth of beef exports in 2020.

In the period February to July 2015, Irish beef exports to the USA were valued at €500,000.

This has grown to €31.8m for the period January to October 2020 and the commencement of beef burger exports to the USA in May 2019 has been central to growing this value.

Price comparison

While the beginning of 2020 saw a general slow climb of beef prices, the impact of COVID-19 hit in March 2020 and the average price per kg for 2020 ended up just 2c/kg ahead of 2019 prices.

The average price in 2020 was €3.62/kg, excl VAT, compared with an average price of €3.60/kg excl VAT in 2019.

This compared with an average UK price of €4.01/kg excl VAT during 2020, representing a 39c/kg average price differential between the UK and Ireland in 2020.

This equates into an almost €150 price differential on a 380kg steer.

The 2020 Irish average price was 9c/kg ahead of the average EU price, which was €3.53/kg, excl VAT on 2020.

Lower numbers

Bord Bia markets specialist Mark Zieg outlined that there was a shift to killing young animals in 2020 and this led a 40,000 increase in the cattle kill numbers in 2020.

This will likely transfer into a positive, with an estimated 80,000 fewer cattle coming through for slaughter in 2021.

This is down to having higher live exports in 2019.

Zieg said: “If we look at the most recent AIMS database figures on 1 November, we see that there are almost 80,000 [fewer] cattle aged between 24 [and] 36 months.”

Ireland’s cattle kill came to 1.8 million head in 2020 and this could drop to 1.72 million head in 2021.

EU meat exports

EU beef exports increased by 1% in 2020, while imports reduced by 10%.

EU beef exports are forecast to increase by 4% in 2021, with imports expected to stay similar to 2020.

Hong Kong took the largest share of EU beef exports, taking just under 40,000t in the period January to September 2020 and accounting for just over 10% of total exports.

Ghana came in as the second-highest destination for EU beef exports, taking just over 35,000t in the same period or 9.5% of exports. This was up 21.3% on the same period in 2020.

There are concerns that it will take a long time before food service outlets get back to normal, with Gira, the meat market experts, expecting it to be the last quarter of 2021 before European food service establishments return to normal trading.

There are some who are able to operate takeaway and online ordering facilities, but many will see disruption to footfall until autumn 2021.

This is important for Ireland, as 41% of Irish beef exports to the continent are to food service businesses.

For more details and analysis of the Bord Bia Meat Marketing Seminar, check out the beef section in next week’s Irish Farmers Journal.