Calf exports: ‘No additional sailings expected this season’

There will be no additional ferry sailings this side of May to aid in transporting calves for export, according to Bord Bia beef and livestock sector manager Joe Burke.

Speaking to AgriLand following a trip to the French port of Cherbourg last week, Burke was not optimistic on the matter, noting that “it won’t get us out of this year’s calf season by providing any additional options in terms of getting extra numbers out”.

Bottleneck

Following meetings with the lairage operators based in Cherbourg to discuss the bottleneck of Irish calves stopping over before continuing their journeys, the sector manager said that, in the short term, it is difficult to see any additional capacity to expand such facilities – which are becoming an increasing concern for the Irish beef and dairy sectors.

“In fairness, they are business people too and if there was a good business case and a good opportunity they would be willing.

“One operator in particular would be willing to look at his facilities there with a view to expansion – but that would be something that would have to be planned.”

Burke said that the current level of capacity for Irish calves is a maximum of 4,000, three times a week in the French port.

“As of this week you would see a demand from exporters and the possibility if they could but they would exceed that fairly significantly just based on availability of calves, current prices of calves and lack of demand from Irish farmers for those calves.

“So, all of those factors would probably allow you to send out a lot more calves than the 12,000 but that will be the figure for the next six weeks.”

Turning to the matter of the new Irish Ferries ship, the W.B. Yeats – which is set to start operations from March 20 – the Bord Bia official said that earlier department hopes of sailing on alternative days of the week to the Stena ferry look set to be dashed.

To my knowledge anyway it is going to sail for March, April and most of May on the same days as the Stena Ferry; that’s from looking at its website.

Heading into peak availability of calves over the coming weeks, Burke noted that Irish exporters are going to continue being restricted to only 12,000.

‘No short-term fix’

“That unfortunately is going to be the situation and there is no way with two lairage operators – one of them has capacity for 2,500, the other has capacity for 1,500 – there is no short-term fix.”

He added that ferries from the two companies operating from Rosslare sailing on alternative days rather than the same day of the week would provide options, allowing for up to 4,000 calves to be rested in lairage on every second day rather than the same day.

The Department of Agriculture had been in touch with both ferry operators but initial optimism seems now not to have materialised.

We will still have the bottleneck of 4,000 in the lairage – it doesn’t matter whether they come on the Stena boat or on the Irish Ferries boat – if they are all arriving on the same day then it doesn’t give you any extra numbers or extra capacity.

Commenting on the current importance of Cherbourg as “our approved route for calf trucks to access continental Europe”, Burke said:

“Whether they are going down to Spain or Italy or up to Holland or Belgium to Poland potentially, they are all going via Cherbourg, unless they open another alternative means of ferry transport into another port.

Ports

“There are other ports and there are potentially other lairages that would be able to cater for calves if they landed in an alternative port in other parts of France for instance that would be able to handle calves.

“The regulation is that the calves have to be rested in a lairage in the immediate vicinity of the port that they arrive at,” the sector manager said.

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