Beef trade: Prices in freefall

Beef prices have continued their downward trajectory this week, with all categories of stock taking a hit at the factory gate.

Covid-19-related market issues are being blamed for the recent drop in base quotes, which see steers and heifers fall 20c/kg in the last two weeks; cows have witnessed an even larger decline.

This week’s 10c/kg cut places heifer and steer prices at 340c/kg – the lowest base price on offer for prime cattle for quite some time. Even during last year’s protests, the minimum base quotes available for factory-fit prime cattle stood at 345c/kg.

If we take a heifer with a carcass weight of 300kg and apply a base price of 340c/kg, we’re looking at a price of €1,020 for this animal.

If we rewind a couple of weeks previous, when heifers were quoted at 365c/kg, farmers were looking at €1,095 for the same 300kg carcass. This is a loss of €75/head over a relatively short period of time.

The general run of prices for cows are 230-240c/kg for P-grading animals and up to 260c/kg for O-grade cows, with those falling into the R-grade category starting at 280c/kg or higher in some plants.

Bull prices have not escaped either with O-grades at approximately 300-310c/kg; R-grade quotes stand at 330-340c/kg.

The outlook in the short-term is bleak with talks of further price cuts common, and many farm organisations are looking for emergency support in dealing with the ongoing crisis.

There are also reports that some processing facilities may move to a shorter working week with the kill expected to be back in the coming weeks.

The picture is no different in Northern Ireland.

According to the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), beef processors in Northern Ireland are offering 310-314p/kg or the equivalent of 353-357c/kg for R3 prime cattle this week; these prices include bonuses where applicable.

Staying north of the border, where 230-240p/kg was on the table for O+3= cows last week, beef plants have now reduced quotes to 224-230p/kg or the equivalent of 255-262c/kg.