The Department of Agriculture has been called on to remove the barriers in the way of Irish live cattle exports to Northern Ireland and Britain.

Worryingly, the number of Irish cattle shipped to Northern Ireland has declined by 56% so far this year on the same period in 2015.

Figures from Bord Bia show that some 21,956 Irish cattle crossed the border to the North this year, a fall of almost 28,000 on 2015 levels.

In previous years, Northern cattle buyers were very active around sales rings to secure Irish stores for further finishing in Northern Ireland.

But, since the introduction of Red Tractor labelling rules in the UK this trade has all but stopped.

This is further galvanised by the latest export figures, which show that just 447 Irish cattle were shipped to the North during the week ending November 19 – a fall of 923 head on the corresponding week in 2015.

Meanwhile the number of Irish cattle exported to Britain have also seen a substantial drop.

To the week ending November 19, just 6,180 Irish cattle were exported to Britain. This is a fall of 2,266 head or 26.8% on the same time in 2015.

Fluctuations in value of Sterling against the euro can also be blamed for the fall in live cattle exports to both Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

A weaker Sterling, which has been a common trend this year, essentially allows British cattle buyers to source cheaper cattle on the domestic market.

Strong export market vital

IFA Livestock Chairman Angus Woods recently called on the Department of Agriculture to increase resources and dedicated personnel on market access and to prioritise the live trade.

In addition, he said Minister Creed must work to remove the barriers on the live trade to Northern Ireland and Britain.

With the forecast for an additional 100,000 head of cattle next year, a strong live export trade is vital for calves, weanlings, stores and finished cattle.

“Live exports are essential for competition and to support market balance and viable prices, as well as additional market outlets,” he said.