Ringside comment: quality in demand as beef prices approach peak
While good quality cattle have seen prices strengthen, plainer types are a little easier.

The past week has been another strong week in terms of the prices paid for good-quality cattle at the marts.

However, in recent weeks, there seems to be more plainer cattle coming through the system and less better quality suckler-bred types.

While average prices in MartWatch are down, many mart managers have commented that the prices paid for good-quality continental stores has actually strengthened slightly, especially forward store types, with specialist finisher demand underpinning the trade for short-keep types.

Farmer demand for stores is said to be quite solid too, with farmers still actively sourcing cattle. The largest decrease in the quality of stock on offer has been in the weanling rings, where a greater proportion of the trade is now made up of dairy crosses. While beef prices are probably at or approaching peak, this has had a positive effect on the cull cow trade, with extremely strong demand for all forward and short-keep cows.

Steers

Heavy store bullocks over 600kg are selling from €2.10/kg to €2.25/kg on average, with U grades selling from €2.40/kg to €2.50/kg. Forward stores from 500kg to 600kg are steady, selling mainly from €2.20/kg to €2.40/kg with plainer types from €2.00/kg to €2.15/kg. At the top of the market, there are some U grades selling from €2.60/kg to €2.70/kg. Light stores from 400kg to 500kg are selling from €2.20/kg to €2.30/kg for continentals. Angus- and Hereford-crosses are selling from €1.80/kg to €2.10/kg, with Friesians a little easier.

Heifers

Mart managers have said that the number of heavy heifers on offer are very low, with finishers having snapped up as many as they could in the past two months. Where those from 500kg to 600kg are on offer, they are selling from €2.20/kg to €2.35/kg for average-quality types and up to €2.80/kg in some cases for U grades and E grades. Lighter stores from 400kg to 500kg are still being met with good farmer demand, which is matching the supply. Prices are averaging at €2.30/kg, with the bottom third making about twice the weight.

Weanlings

Weanling prices have been more variable than stores. This is dues to a greater proportion of dairy-crosses on offer and less suckler-bred weanlings. Where Friesian bulls are on offer, prices of €1.50/kg to €1.70/kg are common for average- to good-quality types. Continental weanlings from 300kg to 400kg are selling mainly from €2.35/kg to €2.55/kg, which is similar to recent weeks. Top-quality bulls are making well over €3.00/kg. Heifer prices are about 10c/kg above the average bull price, mainly due to less dairy influence apparent.

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Irish beef in the global marketplace
A leading German agri-economist gives his view of where Ireland's beef sector stands against its global competitors.

The 16th agri benchmark beef and lamb conference took place in Galway on Monday. Agri benchmark is a non-profit network of agricultural economists, advisers, producers and specialists in key sectors of agricultural and horticultural value chains.

Agricultural economist Claus Deblitz from the Thunen Institute of Farm Economics in Germany presented data compiled by agri benchmark on the competitiveness of Irish beef in the global marketplace.

Global consumption figures.

Global consumption

Looking first at the consumption of beef across the globe, the data has shown that consumption in Ireland has remained steady over the last 15 years. The same, however, cannot be said for countries such as Australia, the US and Canada, where consumption has fallen by 30%, 17% and 20%, respectively.

Asian countries represent the largest increase in beef consumption over the last 15 years, with India (59%) and China (44%) all seeing a strong surge in demand. Other counties that had a large rise in consumption from 2002 were Brazil and South Africa, up 45% and 37% respectively.

Calves weaned per 100 cows globally.

Suckler performance

A look at the performance of the Irish suckler sector identified that Irish producers rank highly on the number of calves weaned per cow per year in comparison to our global competitors. Ireland is the third-highest performer in the EU with 93 calves weaned per 100 cows, falling just behind Poland and Sweden. Outside of Europe, Ireland is outperforming all of the South American and African countries. The US is the only North American country matching Ireland, while of the Asian countries, only China is surpassing our performance.

Total costs in suckler sector globally (€/kg).

Costs

In terms of costs, Ireland is again the third-best performer in Europe, with costs of €2.81/kg. France is slightly lower at €2.70/kg, while the Ukraine has costs of only €1.08/kg. All of the South American countries have lower production costs as well as Canada, Australia and South Africa.

Total returns in suckler sector globally (€/kg).

Total returns

Suckler enterprises in Ireland have total returns of €2.50/kg on average, according to agri benchmark. This puts Ireland on approximately the same level of returns as the UK and the US. Other countries of interest include Brazil, which has estimated returns of €1.25/kg, Argentina has returns of €1.70/kg and France has returns higher than Ireland of €2.85/kg.

Global dependence on Direct Payments.

Dependence on direct payments

So far, Ireland’s performance across the global marketplace has been relatively strong. Costs are low and productivity is high. Where Ireland suffers is its heavy dependence on direct payments – but Ireland is not the only one. Agri benchmark data shows that the whole of the EU is quite dependent on direct payments as a part of income.

Positives and negatives

Claus Deblitz concluded his presentation with what he believed were the greatest positives and negatives of the Irish suckler sector. He identified a strong export industry, our green image and our increased production with a limited land resource as major positives. However, he also highlighted some weaknesses, in particular our heavy dependence on the UK, high costs in beef finishing, small farm structures and farm succession struggles. Table 1 below outlines the full list of positives and negatives.

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Over 8,000 farmers use our technology – James Creevy, Herdwatch
We caught up with James Creevy from Herdwatch at the Irish Farmers Journal's industry day that was held last week on Tullamore Farm.

Creevy explained what Herdwatch does and why it is a benefit to farmers. Herdwatch is now the number one farm management app in Ireland and there are over 8,000 farmers using the technology across Ireland and the UK.

Herdwatch was started in Roscrea, Co Tipperary in 2011 by Fabien Peyaud. His initial research, backed by FRS Farm Relief Services and CEO Peter Byrne, showed that over 90% of cattle farmers did not use any form of herd management software.