Live cattle exports are up 31% to 246,000 head when compared with 2017 levels of 187,000 head exported.

Calf exports saw the biggest rise in 2018, up by 55% to 158,000 head.

The biggest mover was Belgium, which saw cattle exports from Ireland rise from 5,525 head in 2017 to 13,549 in 2018.

Spain also saw growth of 83% with 92,495 head of cattle exported in 2018, an increase of 42,000 head on 2017 levels.

Dairy herd influence

The influence of the dairy herd is increasing and shaping the breed make-up of our national cattle herd.

Friesian-registered calves have increased by 2% in 2018, while Aberdeen Angus and Hereford have grown by 2% and 4%.

This is in contrast with continental beef breeds, which have seen a drop in registrations in 2018.

Limousin-sired progeny are back by 4%, while Charolais are back by 6%.

Belgian Blue-sired cattle have taken the biggest hit, with a drop of 15% recorded in 2018.

The only continental breed to buck this trend was Simmental, showing a 4% increase in registrations in 2018.

Carcase weights

Beef supplies were up 3% in 2018.

However, weather and the growing influence of the dairy herd had an impact on carcase weights, with steer weights back by 2.9kg, heifers by 1.5kg and cull cows by 5.6kg.

Young bulls saw an increase in carcass weight of 2.8kg.

Animals were slaughtered on average two weeks older in 2018 and weather is thought to have been the main driver of this.

Ireland wasn’t the only country to have an increase in beef supply, with UK slaughterings up 2.1%, France up 2%, Italy up 2.9% and overall EU cattle supplies up by 1.7%.

The forecast for 2019 is for a slight decline in EU beef production by 1.7%.

Export value

Irish beef exports were valued at €2.5bn in 2018, a rise of 1% on the 2017 figure.

Export volume was up by 3% to 573,000t, meaning value growth has lagged behind volume growth.

Fifty-two percent of Irish beef exports went to the UK, 44% to other EU markets and 4% to other international markets.

In terms of global consumption forecasts, it’s a positive story, with a 1.5% forecasted increase in beef consumption in 2019.

On the world stage, Brazil, Argentina and the USA are ramping up exports, with imports into the EU from Brazil up 40% on 2017 levels, while imports from Argentina were up 22% on 2017 levels.

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