The battle of wills between factories and farmers continued this week, with factories determined to take 5c/kg out of prices paid and farmers putting up strong resistance.
Quotes for steers are generally €5.20/kg, with €5.30/kg for heifers, but plenty of farmers, especially those with suitable stock, have been able to dig in and secure 5c/kg more at €5.25/kg for steers and €5.35/kg for heifers.
With factories back to a full working week, numbers were up 1,856 on the previous week to 31,968 head and this is over 2,000 more cattle than went through factories in the same week last year.
Factory success in dropping the prices will depend on whether they are getting the numbers they need from now on, even though the strength of the beef market has driven prices on up to this point, despite the kill running well ahead of last year.
Also, Irish factory prices have been performing strongly in recent weeks, comparing favourably with the UK and elsewhere in Europe. This could be creating downward pressure.
Rising British prices
On the other hand, rising prices in Britain last week suggest that there remains a strong demand for beef in Ireland’s main export market.
There is still very strong factory demand for cows.
Top-quality beef-bred U and R grading cows are generally €5/kg, although we have heard of more being paid, as well as efforts to buy at €4.95/kg.
O grading cows are trading around €4.80/kg, while P grading cows are generally trading around €4.70/kg.
As always with cows, it is important to use the Irish Farmers Journal tables to see where the best prices are being paid, as there can be a big range of prices paid by factories, even within the same groups.
Also, factories outside the main groups are often the most competitive for cows, so it is worthwhile shopping around and also keeping the live trade in mind as an option.
The young bull trade is also a bit like cows, with some factories more keen than others and as a result better payers.
Numbers going through factories last week were 3,433 head, above the previous five-week average of 3,175 head.
This puts factories in a stronger position to negotiate and it was harder for farmers to hold on to €5.50/kg for U grading bulls under 24 months, with €5.40/kg being a more common price and 10c/kg less for R grading young bulls.
Under-16-month young bulls are being offered less than steer prices by 5c/kg or, in some cases, 10c/kg, with the range between €5.15/kg and €5.25/kg, depending on the factory.
In the North, it is a case of farmers holding on, as prices seem to have levelled off.
However, there is little talk of a price drop, as the factory trade is underpinned by an exceptional live trade in the marts.
Base quotes for U-3 grading cattle remain at £4.32/kg (€5.02/kg) excluding VAT, but this is a long way from prices that are being paid, with £4.48kg to £4.50/kg (€5.21kg to €5.23/kg) the going rate and specialist finishers with numbers able to secure a few pence more.
Heifers are generally moving between £4.50/kg and £4.54/kg (€5.23/kg and €5.28/kg).
Cow prices similarly bear no relation to official quotes, with between £4.00/kg and £4.10/kg (€4.65 and €4.77/kg) being paid for good R grading cows.
Factory prices increased across all regions and for all types of cattle in Britain last week.
The average steer price across all regions for all grades combined was up 1.3p/kg to £4.43/kg (€5.15/kg), while heifers were up 2p/kg to £4.43/kg (€5.15/kg) and cow averages recorded the biggest increase, up 5.4p/kg to £3.66/kg (€4.26/kg).
All prices in Britain and NI are exclusive of VAT.