2023 has seen the worst comparative performance since 2015 in terms of beef prices, as the gap between Irish and British beef prices rose as high as €1/kg.

That is according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) beef chair, Edmund Graham.

Looking back on 2023 and ahead to 2024, Graham told Agriland that this year delivered a mixed bag for beef prices, because “better prices that were expected in May and June didn’t materialise”, but September saw a bit of a “lift that defied the expectations of a decline”.

The strong performance of the live export market however, he said, was a “huge positive during 2023”.

According to Graham, there was an increase of 12% year-on-year up to early-December, with live export figures at 318,869 head.

Base prices for steers and heifers “finally broke” the €5/kg mark once again, but he has warned that there will be need to be “sustained increases in the early weeks of the new year to reach or surpass the €5.25-€5.30 mark we saw in the early months of 2023”.

Graham said that “maintaining and growing our capacity for live exports is vital, and will need considerable backing from the government and our MEPs following the EU Commission adopting a proposal that seeks to strengthen the protection of animals during transport.

“ICSA supports measures aimed improving animal welfare standards during transport, and any proposal that would significantly impede our ability to export live must be opposed”.

Graham also highlighted that 2023 saw the establishment of the AgriFood Regulator, which he has warned must “now prove” its value in delivering transparency along the food chain.

According to the ICSA beef chair, the organisation has been the “driving force behind the establishment of a regulator since we first met Phil Hogan on his appointment as EU Commissioner in 2014”.

Beef prices

One key highlight of 2023 for the ICSA beef chair, was the positive development on the protected geographical indication (PGI) front for Ireland.

Graham said: “The awarding of the PGI status for grass-fed beef is another positive, but it too, must prove itself to be financially beneficial for primary producers.

“With a PGI status for our grass-fed beef, we should be able to command a premium price for our beef – and certainly not a price that is consistently behind UK and EU export benchmark prices.”

Graham believes that this will require leveraging the PGI status through “effective marketing strategies, which must be a priority for Bord Bia and all other stakeholders in 2024”.

He added that this designation must translate into financial rewards for primary producers of Irish grass-fed beef to be deemed a success

Graham said that the “fact that production is down in both the US and across the EU, might help keep prices that bit stronger in 2024 also”.

He added: “We must ensure however that our access to the Chinese market is restored, as we simply cannot afford to see this suspension carry on for three years, as it did in following a similar incident in 2020.”