The beef trade is slowly turning the corner with a lot more positivity in the trade this week. Many farmers on the ground have chosen to hold off for better quotes and this has shifted that delicate balance of power back in farmer favour. Good weather also meant farmers were occupied with field work and getting some cattle out which narrowed down factory pickings for the week.

Quotes have improved by €0.05-€0.10/kg in the last week in some plants. Factories are also willing to do flat deals for poorer grading animals in the last few days. Deals on weight and haulage being paid are also coming back into conversations, a sure sign that the cattle are wanted and factories are willing to jump the hurdles to get them.

Heifers are generally trading at €3.75/kg with a few hard sellers able to squeeze €3.80/kg where good-quality heifers are being killed. Bullocks are trading on the same at €3.75/kg with again a few reports of €3.80/kg being paid for mixed loads of bullocks and heifers.

Bulls are moving off €3.70-€3.75/kg for R grading bulls with 3.80-€3.85/kg being paid for U grading bulls and there are reports of €3.90/kg being paid by some processors to regular suppliers. Young bulls are generally moving off €3.75/kg-€3.80/kg on the grid.

Cows have also seen a lift in price with P grading cows improving a little since last week. P+3+ cows are now trading at €3.00-€3.05/kg with o grading cows moving to €3.10-€3.15/kg. Good quality R grading cows are working off €3.30-€3.40/kg. Feedlots and factories specialising in cull cows have also been very active in marts over the last few days sourcing forward store cattle.

Sterling has stayed very strong over the last two weeks trading at 86p/€1 which is further good news for Irish exporters. It has also meant NI customers should be stronger when bidding ringside. The price differential for R3 grading bullocks being killed in NI v the Republic still stands at €250/head.

Numbers moving to NI for direct slaughter increased to 287 head last week. Numbers exported for further feeding for January and February 2021 rose to 7,978 head, up 3,136 head on the 2020 export figure for the same period.

We are in the unique position where food service channels across the UK and Europe are empty. This means these channels will take significant restocking prior to a phased re-opening in April. With numbers expected to be tight and retail demand high in the run up to Easter, the next six weeks should see an improvement in prices for finished cattle.

Last week’s kill stabilised at 30,365 head when veal slaughtering of 3,301 head is taken out, a slight decrease on the previous week’s kill of 30,430 head. The young bull kill saw a significant drop last week with 755 less young bulls slaughtered. IFA livestock chair Brendan Golden said factories are having to work very hard to secure supplies and farmers should sell hard and not accept lower quotes from some factories.

NI Comment

There is little change to finished cattle prices in NI with base quotes holding on 370p/kg (€4.48/kg inc VAT) for U-3 grading animals. However, regular finishers continue to move in-spec animals well ahead of this level. Steers are moving at 380p to 382p/kg (€4.60/kg to €4.62/kg) while prime heifers are making 2p/kg more and higher prices reserved for specialist finishers on supply agreements. Cull cows remain on a base of 275p/kg (€3.33/kg) for R3 grading animals, but deals of 300p to 320p/kg are commonly available (€3.63 to €3.87/kg.