Beef Industry Review: January
By Claire Mc Cormack and Niall Claffey
It started on a high – a kill high, that is.
Almost 1.8 million cattle were slaughtered at department-approved meat exporting plants in 2018 – up more than 51,000 head on 2017 levels – the highest kill in almost two decades.
But another, more unfortunate, milestone was also reached.
The number of calves registered to beef dams (suckler cows) dropped to a 10-year low.
Data, taken from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), found that 880,000 calves were registered on suckler farms – considered a critical component and asset of the country’s rural economy – throughout 2018, a dramatic decline of 43,000 head on the previous year.
It was the first time in a long, long time that the total number of registrations dipped below 900,000 head.
While factory-gate prices resumed relatively unchanged from the pre-Christmas period, farmers with factory-fit bulls faced slaughter-date delays as the month of January progressed – leading to a backlog of bulls in the system.
As such, heavier bulls struggled in the marts. The overall trade was described as “sluggish” – with a lethargic mood shadowing over farmers ringside too.
Mid-month, Turkey – a major importer of Irish cattle in recent years – suspended live cattle imports to stabilise its own domestic beef prices and supplies.
It was unwelcomed news for the industry, which was also suddenly faced with a damning global “scientific” report that condemned human consumption of red meat – the EAT Lancet report. It sparked outrage among farming communities, with farm organisations deeming it “fake news”.
Meanwhile, murmurings of beef sector supports and reviews bubbled to the surface.
As the weeks progressed, marts geared up for a large influx of dairy-origin calves in the spring trade. While initial numbers remained low, prices for Friesian bull calves opened at €60-80/head below 2017 levels.
As January drew to a close, the much-anticipated Dairy Beef Index (DBI) – developed by ICBF and Teagasc – was rolled out.
The index is a breeding goal for Irish dairy and beef farmers to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter.
A quiet start…