The balance of play in the factory/farmer beef price game has truly shifted back in favour of the farmer.

Beef cattle supplies continue to remain at constant levels and, as of yet, there has been no great flush of grass cattle coming forward for slaughter.

Some procurement managers have been forced to dig in deep in order to secure both steer and heifer supplies, with base prices for both rising closer to 420c/kg and 430c/kg respectively.

There has also been some upward movement in cow prices with some buyers starting negotiations at 370c/kg for well-fleshed R-grade cows, while R-grade young bull prices are sitting at 400-410c/kg.

Steady as she goes for supplies

Beef cattle supplies have remained relatively stable as extra cows, young bulls and aged bulls helped to bolster supplies during the week ending May 21.

In total, some 31,410 cattle were slaughtered in Department of Agriculture approved beef export plants during the week ending May 21 – an increase of 211 head or 0.7% on the week before.

This was the tenth consecutive week in a row where cattle supplies rested below the 32,000 mark – a major change from the 35,000-36,000 head weekly kills seen earlier this year.

In terms of throughput, steers and heifers continue to make up the majority of supplies. But, a fall was witnessed in both of these catagories during the week ending May 21.

Week-on-week beef kill changes:
  • Steers: 10,030 head (-1,303 head or -11.5%)
  • Young bulls: 4,022 head (+334 head or +9.1%)
  • Bulls: 716 head (+36 head or +5.3%)
  • Heifers: 8,361 head (-210 head or -2.5%)
  • Cows: 8,281 head (+1,354 head or +19.5%)
  • Total: 31,410 head (+211 or +0.7%)

When looked at in a cumulative or total kill basis, figures from the Department of Agriculture show that an additional 17,656 head (+2.9%) of cattle have been slaughtered in beef plants this year.

This brings to cumulative beef kill to 633,738 head.

Latest prices

The latest beef prices reported to the Department of Agriculture and presented by the AgriLand Beef Price Tool show that there has been a widespread increase in the returns issued to farmers.

As of the week ending May 21, base heifer prices were sitting at 435c/kg and farmers were paid an average price of 423c/kg for steers. Both of these prices included breed-specific and other bonuses.

There was also some improvement witnessed in cow (O=3=) and young bull (U=2+) prices, which increased by 4.01c/kg and 5.80c/kg respectively.

Main markets

According to Bord Bia, the British cattle trade remains relatively steady with R4L steer prices sitting at the equivalent of 424c/kg during the week ending May 20.

Looking at heifer prices, Northern Irish R3-grade heifers made approximately 420c/kg and prices in Britain stood at approximately 425c/kg.

In France, it says, the trade eased again last week on the back of lower demand.

Trade was best for domestically-produced beef, Bord Bia reports, while retail promotions focused primarily on mince and roasting joints.