New figures released in the annual Bord Bia Export Performance and Prospects report 2020/2021 have shown that livestock exports increased by 2% in 2020 with €3.4 billion of meat and livestock exports leaving Ireland in 2020.

Irish beef exports in 2020 faced an unprecedented market challenge resulting from the Covid-19 crisis.

The resulting upheavals across our geographic markets and market channels, have changed beef demand in terms of carcass balance and beef specification.

The European foodservice channel which provides the balance of demand to retail and is a particularly important outlet for steaks, accounting for up to 60% of steak total export, is estimated by GIRA to have contracted by 35%.

While retail demand throughout Europe has seen growth of over 10% in retail sales, it has also created a number of issues for the effective marketing of Irish beef.

Many European markets have seen an increased focus on supporting domestic production; retail promotions have been severely curtailed and new listings have been shelved in many cases.

Breakdown of meat exports

Total exports of Irish primary beef were valued at €1.9 billion, a 2% reduction on 2019. Exports of offals were valued at €180 million, a 10% reduction relative to 2019.

In volume terms, exports of fresh and frozen beef including offals declined by approximately 4% to 550,000t.

Irish primary pigmeat exports for 2020 were 14% higher at €586 million, as the sector was helped by the continuing firm international demand due to the continued impact of African Swine Fever (ASF).

Overall Irish exports of primary pigmeat increased by 3% to 234,000t.

The pattern of Irish pigmeat exports was heavily influenced by trade developments in Asia throughout 2020.

Shipments of Irish pigmeat to Asia now account for 41% of the total value and 47% of the total volume of Irish pigmeat exports at €243 million, with China as the leading destination.

A much more positive market for Irish sheepmeat during 2020 resulted in the value of exports increasing by 12% to a total of €357 million.

This strong growth came on the back of a stronger price environment and a 4% increase in the overall volume of sheepmeat exported.

Irish poultry exports increased by around 4% to 124,000t reflecting the continued increase in output at farm level as the industry is reliant on export markets for carcass balance utilisation.

However, these exports in value terms are expected to fall by 2% to €152 million as Covid-19 measures impact demand levels globally.

Live exports

Live cattle exports from Ireland during 2020 totalled 265,000 head, a notable decline from the 298,000 head exported during 2019.

However, despite the overall decline in the number of cattle being exported, the value of export sales has increased from €118 million during 2019 to €133 million in 2020 reflecting a change in the mix of animals exported.

This is a 12% increase year on year.

During 2020 Irish live pig exports are expected to total 450,000 head, a 7% increase from 2019 levels.

This increase in the number of pigs exported combined with an increase in the average price of pigs to €145, have contributed to an overall growth in export sales to €65 million during 2020.

The most important market for Irish live pig exports is Northern Ireland, a reflection of the strong trading relationship between the two regions.

During 2020 Irish live exports of sheep are expected to have reached 30,000 head, a notable increase from the 7,000 sheep exported during 2019.

While sheep exports represent only a small proportion of the overall trade in live animals, there has been some encouraging growth in the value of exports to €3.6 million during 2020.

The increase in the value of export sales has been driven by the increase in the numbers being exported but also an improvement in the average export price of sheep to €120, reflective of the strong trade for sheep in Ireland, and across the EU, during 2020.

France is the biggest market for live sheep exports, accounting for two-thirds of total exports, although there has been encouraging growth in the live export of sheep to Bulgaria, Italy and the Netherlands during 2020.