Irish trade review

The firmness in the deadweight beef trade has continued, with an average R3 steer price in the week ending 20 November 2021 of €4.16/kg.

This compares to an R3 steer price of €3.61/kg in the corresponding week last year.

There have been improvements in the beef trade across key EU markets, which have been driven by tighter supplies and stable consumer demand for beef.

Demand for manufacturing beef has been particularly strong during 2021, as foodservice has reopened. Since June, there has been a good recovery in Irish beef exports to the UK, with exports to the region between June and September operating 13% ahead of 2020 levels in value terms.

\ Barry Cronin

The deadweight lamb market has continued to strengthen, with an average deadweight price of €6.71/kg in the four weeks ending 20 November 2021.

This is €1.67/kg (33%) higher than the corresponding period in October/November 2020. The strong increase in lamb prices has not been confined to Ireland, with higher prices in all key lamb-producing regions.

This upward movement in global lamb prices has been driven by lower lamb production, lower availability of product for export and shifts in the pattern of global sheepmeat trading.

While prices have increased in all markets, it is worth highlighting that the differential in prices between Ireland and New Zealand is now narrower than it has been in the past, which makes Irish lamb more competitive on export markets.

Livestock throughput*

There was a significant tightening in sheep availability for processing in the early months of 2021, which had a negative impact on throughput.

While supplies improved as 2021-born lambs started to become available for slaughter, throughput for the year-to-date continues to trend lower. Up to 20 November, 2,417,864 sheep have been processed in DAFM-approved plants, a 7% decline from the same period in 2020.

\ Barry Cronin

Cattle supplies for slaughter have also been significantly tighter during 2021, with throughput for the year-to-date totaling 1,503,802 head, back 113,197 head from the corresponding period in 2020.

Prime cattle throughput (steers, heifer and young bulls) has totalled 1,147,956 head during 2021 to-date, a decline of 7% from the same period last year. Meanwhile, cow throughput has totalled 309,394 head, 6% lower than 2020 levels.

*Please note 2020 throughput data contains an additional week due to it being a 53-week year.

Cattle population

The latest available Animal Identification and Movement System (AIMS) cattle population data for September 2021 has indicated a reduction in the number of both male and female beef cattle in the 30-36 month age category (back 19% and 14% respectively).

The number of male and female beef cattle on-farm in the 24-30 month age category in September 2021 was marginally lower than the corresponding period in 2020, while the number of dairy males in this age group was back by 12% to total 58,000 head.

This would indicate that cattle supplies for slaughter are expected to remain tight in the shorter term.

Moving into the lower age groups, there has been a notable improvement in cattle numbers.

In the 18-24 month age category, the number of beef males has increased by almost 26,000 head (+16%), while the number of beef heifers in the same age group increased by 22,000 (+12%).

The number of dairy-sired male cattle in the 18-24 month age bracket has also increased by 22,000 head (+17%).

The increase in the number of cattle in this age group is a direct result of reduced calf export activity in spring 2020, with more calves staying in Ireland for beef production.

This is expected to contribute to an increase in cattle availability for slaughter as we move into 2022.

Live exports

During 2021 to-date, there have been 234,408 cattle exported, a 4% decline from 2020 levels. Spain has remained the largest market for Irish cattle during 2021, although exports to this market have been predominantly calves.

Northern Ireland has been the standout market for Irish cattle exports during 2021 to-date in terms of market growth, with most cattle exported to the region being older and more valuable stock.

The level of older cattle exports to customers in the EU and in third country markets during 2021 to-date have been negatively impacted by strong cattle prices and firm demand for cattle on the domestic market.

However, increased purchasing activity from third country markets in recent weeks has meant a sizeable number of Irish cattle are expected to leave for Libya before the end of the year.

Global beef outlook

UK beef production is to remain tight into the first quarter of 2022, which will maintain opportunities for Irish beef. According to the EU Commission’s Beef Forecast Working Group, beef production in Europe is predicted to decline by 1.4%, with consumption largely unchanged. Looking at the global picture, some of the larger exporters, including the US and Australia, will see some recovery in production.

This has led the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service to predict an increase of 0.6% in global beef supplies. However, with consumption globally also predicted to grow, this will see a 1.9% increase in global import levels.

Global sheepmeat outlook

Tighter global supplies and firm demand for sheepmeat have contributed to the exceptional prices recorded for lamb in 2021 and the outlook for 2022 remains positive. Firm import demand from Asian markets, in particular China, and the US, has created shifts in global trade patterns for sheepmeat and has been a key factor in the lower availability of imported product on the EU market. Direct access to the Chinese and US markets remains a priority for the Irish sheepmeat sector, with some positive progress made in advancing access during 2021.

Increases in sheepmeat production have been forecast in Australia in 2022, however supplies in New Zealand next year are expected to be similar to 2021 levels. Initial forecasts for overall sheepmeat production in the EU-27 and the UK is expected to hold steady at best, which could give Irish sheepmeat exporters further opportunities to grow market share in key EU markets.

Sheepmeat continues to have a strong association with religious holidays, with demand for sheepmeat increasing in the weeks prior to key celebrations. In 2022, Ramadan falls slightly earlier on the 2 April, while Easter Sunday falls later on 17 April. Another key holiday to consider is Eid al-Adha, which also occurs earlier in 2022 on 9 July.

Farm Sustainability Learning Hub

In October, Bord Bia launched a new online learning platform for farmers.

The Farm Sustainability Learning Hub has been designed to support farmers in implementing best practice in farm sustainability.

It is freely available to members of the Sustainable Assurance Schemes for beef, lamb, dairy, pigmeat and horticulture.

Four modules are currently available:

  • An Introduction to Farmland Biodiversity.
  • An Introduction to Greenhouse Gases.
  • Greenhouse Gases: The Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC).
  • Responsible Use of Antibiotics.
  • The catalogue of modules will continue to grow over time, with a further two modules covering soil health and water quality currently in development. All modules are optional and can be completed in 30 minutes or less.

    Farmers can access the modules online at (Pig and horticulture producers can visit or

    Getting started

    Visit and click on ‘Farm Sustainability Learning Hub’. Enter your herd number and the pin number you received at your last audit. If you do not know this, select ‘forgot pin’ and the PIN will be sent to your mobile phone.

    After logging in, you will be taken to the dashboard of the Farm Sustainability Learning Hub. This page will display the courses you have enrolled in and completed.

    Begin by clicking the green tab labelled ‘click here to view courses’ or you can click on the red tab in the top left to move from the dashboard to the catalogue of modules.

    You’ll be shown the list of courses and can begin immediately. You can exit and resume at any stage during the course and your progress will be saved (be sure to click ‘save and exit’ in the top right corner).

    Each course include links to further learning and resources. For example, the farmland biodiversity module includes a downloadable Home Farm Improvement template, which allows you to evaluate the biodiversity on your own farm.