Since the first boatload of Irish cattle were shipped to Turkey, in the autumn of last year, the market has grown increasingly important for all facets of Irish beef farming.

Suckler farmers, in particular, have experienced the short-term benefits as export buyers have made their presence felt at the ringside when securing supplies.

In total, some 25,078 Irish weanlings and approximately 1,000 light stores have been shipped to Turkey. This trade has been a valuable outlet for suckler weanlings and dairy-origin stock sired by beef bulls.

Despite this, Teagasc National Farm Survey data shows that the returns generated by weanling sales declined by 3% or €19/head in 2016 when compared to the year earlier.

But, it must be noted that these prices would have been back even further if it wasn’t for the activity of export buyers sourcing stock for Turkey in the final third of 2016.

How many cattle have been shipped to Turkey?

Since September 2016, just over 31,220 cattle have left Irish shores and approximately 11% of these have been forward stores or finished bulls.

Last year, Viastar shipped more than 19,000 cattle to Turkey. The four shipments, organised by the Meath-based company, included both finished and weanling bulls.

In a separate deal, earlier this year, another Irish exporter sent a consignment of 1,564 Irish heifers to Turkey.

Purcell Brothers has also been heavily involved in exporting Irish cattle to Turkey and has loaded four ships for Turkish buyers this year.

Bord Bia

Earlier this week, the company loaded a shipment of approximately 1,800 forward bulls for Turkey. This shipment is expected to arrive in the Turkish port of Bandirma on August 4.

In total, this brings the total number of forward or finished bulls shipped to Turkey to over 3,000.

If it wasn’t for Turkey, these animals would have been slaughtered in Irish beef plants. This would have added to the surplus supplies seen in these plants in the final few months of 2016 and on into this year.

Long-term benefits

However, to touch on just the benefits of shipping heavy or forward cattle is to ignore the long-term benefits of Irish live cattle shipments to Turkey.

The Irish beef industry currently sits in a position of surplus supplies and the 2017 beef cattle kill is expected to be 100,000 head higher than last year.

What’s more, the Irish dairy herd has expanded rapidly since the abolition of milk quotas in 2015; and this growth is only going to intensify the pressure on Irish beef prices in the coming years.

Therefore, the importance of live export markets to Irish cattle producers can’t be underestimated – especially as dairy births are likely to reach record highs in the coming years.

Also Read: Why the future's looking increasingly black and white for beef finishers

Undoubtedly, additional beef cattle supplies will come on stream in the near future. So, everything must be done to protect the live export markets already open to Irish producers and to fully utilise these markets as an avenue to protect finished cattle prices in the future.

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Taking the age profile of the weanlings and light stores mentioned above into consideration, the majority of which would fall fit for slaughter between August 2017 and February 2018, means that some 26,000 fewer cattle will be available to Irish factories.

This will add further competition to the market and could potentially force beef buyers to dig deeper to secure the numbers they need to maintain a constant supply.

Essentially, it means that some 3,700 fewer cattle will be available to Irish factories over this seven-month period – a weekly reduction of just over 900 head.