The traditional season for live exports of calves is coming to an end but the normal sharp seasonal drop-off in numbers being exported is not materialising to the same extent as in previous years.

Exports to the Netherlands and Italy stand out in this regard.

The number of calves exported live to the Netherlands in the week ending 15 May 2021 was recorded at 2,079 head. This compares to 192 calves exported live for the week ending 9 May 2020.

The reason for the week’s difference in comparison figures for 2021 and 2020 is due to 2020 being a 53-week calendar year.

The number of calves exported to the Netherlands had performed poorly at the start of the season due to a lack of confidence in specialist veal finishing units. This was driven by market opportunities for veal being greatly curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic and closure of the food service sector across much of Europe.

At one stage, live exports were running close to 20,000 head behind comparable 2020 levels. Confidence has improved somewhat of late on the back of the vaccine rollout and expectation of a return to normal business later in the year.

The stronger finish to the season has closed this gap, with live exports of 39,256 head running 8,834, or 18.4%, behind the corresponding period in 2020.

The number of cattle, including calves, being exported live to Italy is also running well ahead of recent years.

The latest weekly figures show 1,272 head being exported live compared to 788 head in 2020. Exports to the market for 2021 so far total 17,592, which represents an increase of 5,553 head or a 46.1% lift.

This increase has being underpinned by higher live exports of calves.

Spanish market dominates

Spain continues to be the dominant market for live exports based on total numbers exported.

The market has recovered strongly in recent years and for the year to-date, exports have been recorded at 51,934 head. This represents an increase of 7,310 head (16.4%) on 2020 figures.

Numbers exported in recent weeks have been steady at in the region of 2,500 to 3,000 head, with 2,813 head exported in the latest week.

Big number moving north

Northern Ireland is running third behind Spain and the Netherlands in terms of numbers exported live but it is likely to be in the number one position if evaluated on the value of live exports.

The market is excelling in 2021 on the back of tight supplies in Northern Ireland and a significant price differential enhancing the attractiveness of importing from the south.

Numbers crossing the border north for the year to date stand at 32,934, over twice the figure of 15,154 cattle exported in 2020. The increase is balanced across all categories of stock.

Plants servicing the wholesale market have imported higher numbers of finished cattle, with cows especially benefiting.

Total exports

The improved performance in recent weeks has lifted total exports for 2021 to 154,858 head, which represents an increase of 9,881 head on 2020 levels.

Calf exports of 113,285 are marginally ahead (897 head) of 2020 levels. Finished cattle exports of 19,300 head are running 6,137 head higher while store exports of 13,497 head are running 3,589 head higher.

The weanling category, at 8,776 head, is the only category to record a reduction, with numbers 742 head lower.