If a farmer said 12 months ago that factories would be paying €4.00/kg for better-type cull cows in January 2022, it would likely have been seen as over-optimistic – wishful thinking on the beef trade.

It is fair to say that very few people – if anyone – saw this coming; that beef prices would make such a comeback, however it must be said the current situation comes after a number of very difficult years for beef farmers and rising input costs will likely see any financial gains swallowed up again in meal and fertiliser costs this year.

With these rising input costs, the price of prime cattle will need to see continued strengthening if beef farmers are to see any sort of a noticeable margin this year.

However, it cannot be denied that farmers selling cull cows this year are getting well paid for them.

A factory-fit cull suckler cow sold at either the mart or the factory would currently go a long way towards paying for a replacement bulling heifer of similar quality.

Mart demand for beef cows is matching – if not outstripping – factory demand for cull cows, as Northern cow customers are making their presence felt at mart rings nationwide.

In the run up to Christmas, it was not uncommon to see heavy, fleshed, U-grade type cull cows surpassing €2,000/head at mart rings across the country, with wholesalers in the south of Ireland placing the highest bid in many cases and the same will likely be observed as marts return this week.

Factory quotes on the cow front for the first week of 2022 show fleshed U-grade cows are still clearing €4.00/kg in most cases, while R, O and P-grade cows are being quoted at €3.90, €3.70 and €3.60/kg respectively this week, with scope for 10-15c/kg more in each grade for better-type beef cows.

Meanwhile, this time last year, the same processors were quoting €3.30/kg for a U-grade cow and €3.20, €3.00 and €2.90/kg for R, O and P-grade cows respectively – with more on offer in certain cases.

Cull cow quotes are up approximately 70c/kg across the board in factories on this time last year and mart demand is matching, if not surpassing this.

However, 12 months ago, beef price was in a very different situation. In January 2021, a base price of €4.00/kg for in-spec heifers and steers – let alone cows – would have been seen as wishful thinking and almost unrealistic.

This time last year, a farmer that was getting €3.75/kg for steers and €3.80/kg on the grid for heifers was a top price.

Fast forward 12 months and steers are at €4.25/kg and heifers are at €4.30/kg on the grid, with more money to be secured in some cases.

The past year has been a prime example of just how volatile beef price is and how exposed Irish beef farmers are to world markets, but it is hoped a strong beef trade will be seen for the first half of 2022 and beyond.