Calf exports will not recover from the poor start to the year and will be significantly back on 2023, two of the country’s leading shippers have predicted.

Seamus Scallan of the Wicklow Calf Company forecast that calf sales to other EU countries could potentially fall by 50,000 head this year or by close to 25%.

Cork exporter William O’Keeffe predicted that the 208,000 head shipped in 2023 will not be matched this year.

Worryingly, sales to the Netherlands – which took 106,000 head last year, or more than half of the calves Ireland exported – have collapsed.

Dutch buyers purchased just 12,481 calves up to 10 March, a drop of 64% year on year. Meanwhile, sales to Spain are back 27% to 11,393 head.

Although shipments of calves have picked up over the last fortnight, shippers are not confident that exports will fully recover.

“There is no country that is anxious for calves,” said O’Keeffe.

Bluetongue restrictions in the Netherlands – which allow the import but not the export of livestock – have severely disrupted the trade, he said.

Dutch buyers who used to buy and feed calves for eight to 10 weeks and then sell them on to beef units in other countries, have effectively been taken out of the market.

“Last year we sent 24,000 calves to Holland. This year we’re not doing the same numbers, although we’re still going there three times a week. We’re doing more to Poland and Spain,” O’Keeffe said.

Scallan predicted that Holland will not take the same number of Irish calves again.

“Last year 880,000 calves went into Holland. Around 70% from Germany and 14% from Ireland.

“This year they have 70,000 to 90,000 less boxes for calves, less places,” he pointed out.

“Holland, as it was, is finished for Irish calves.

“We have to be looking at alternative markets in Romania, Poland and the Balkans,” he said.