Live exports still haven’t managed to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels, with total exports for 2021 tracking down 4.4% on the 2020 figures for the period up to 27 November 2021.

According to Bord Bia figures, live exports were down over 10,000 head for the first 11 months of the year. This was on top of a 34,000 head drop for the same period in 2020.

Spain, Belgium, Libya and Turkey have all seen the biggest drop.

Italy and Northern Ireland have been the standout performers in 2021, with live exports to Italy up 35% on 2020 levels.


In 2020, there were 20,671 head exported to Italy by the end of November. That figure rose to 27,998 for the same period in 2021.

The Italian live export market would have been known for high-end Belgian Blue weanlings 15 to 20 years ago, but this has evolved over time, with the majority of exports now consisting of Aberdeen Angus calves.

Northern Ireland has continued its strong performance on 2020, with a further increase in live exports in 2021 to see a lift of 20.5% up until the end of November.

Live exports to Northern Ireland have totalled 69,304 up until the end of November, up 11,806 head on the 2020 figure and up almost 36,000 head on the same period in 2019.

Tightness in supply

A tightness in the supply of beef cattle in Britain has meant that supermarket-spec beef has been exported from Northern Ireland to Britain to meet retail demand across the water.

This, in turn, has left some gaps in the wholesale market in Northern Ireland, which Irish cattle have been able to fill. The majority for live exports to Northern Ireland have been forward store cattle and cows.

Live exports fall

Live exports outside of the EU have fallen off considerably for the first 11 months of 2021.

Libya has seen the largest reduction of 7,206 head compared with 2020 exports. A ship docked in the Libyan port of Misrata last week with 1,600 Friesian bulls on board.

The Irish Farmers Journal understands that at least one Irish exporter is planning for another shipment of bulls to leave Ireland for Libya in January 2022.

Turkey, which showed a lot of promise in 2019 and 2020, has had no live exports from Ireland to date in 2021. There were over 10,000 weanlings exported at this point in 2019 and 2020.

Political instability and currency issues has meant that no government contracts were issued in 2021.

Irish weanling prices were also tracking 9% higher in 2021, which meant that Irish weanlings were not as competitive in 2021.

Spring calf trade

All eyes are now on the spring calf trade. The Netherlands export market has continued to recover well, but is still a long way off 2019 levels.

There were 48,868 head exported to the Netherlands by the end of November 2021, up 128 head on the same period in 2020. There were 84,517 head of calves exported to the Netherlands for the same period in 2019.

The food service trade still hasn’t returned to normal across Europe and lockdowns in spring of 2021 disrupted this further.

Exporters are hopeful of a return to normal trading arrangements for 2022.