The Irish suckler industry could benefit greatly from increased competition from buyers sourcing cattle – particularly weanlings – for the valuable Italian market.

Buoyed by demand for GM-free and antibiotic-free beef, Co-op Italia has focused on buying cattle which meet its ‘whole of life’ specification for its feedlots and supermarket shelves.

The Italian retailer is already a major player in the Irish market and, between beef and weanlings, it purchases approximately 30,000-40,000 cattle from Ireland each year.

The beef is slaughtered in Ireland through the KK Club; weanlings are sourced by Irish exporters prior to being shipped to the co-op’s feedlots in Italy.

Pat O’Rourke, Irish Director of Edell Point Server, told AgriLand that it was an excellent opportunity for Irish farmers.

Already, he said: “Six marts – namely Granard, Carrigallen, Donegal, Milford, Carnaross and Ballymahon – are sourcing and identifying animals for this market.

Further marts are expected to be added to this list in the coming weeks. Discussions are at an advanced stage with Aurivo and Clare Marts.

“By the time of peak weanlings sales, we could be looking at 14 marts.”

O’Rourke, who validates all of the beef supplied to Co-op Italia from Ireland, added that approximately 4,000 weanlings have been sold for this market so far; 90% of which have been declared suitable by farmers.

Why Irish weanlings?

He added: “Ireland is seen as an excellent market to produce such animals. If you look at the statistics, the use of antibiotics is significantly lower on Irish farms ; it’s a huge opportunity.

“The Irish weanling is very popular and the Italians are very interested. At slaughter, these animals tend to kill out at U+; stock from France generally grade R+.”

O’Rourke added that there is huge potential for this market to grow. But, the animals must be supplied from their farm of birth and have never received antibiotics or a ration containing GM ingredients over their life time.