Cattle exports to Northern Ireland drop by 52%

The number of Irish cattle exported to Northern Ireland has dropped drastically, figures from the Department of Agriculture show.

During the first nine weeks of 2018 (up to the week ending March 4), some 2,237 cattle were transported across the border – a drop of 2,389 head or 52% on the corresponding period in 2017.

Throughout the years, Northern Ireland has proved to be a valuable market for Irish stock – particularly for finished heifers and steers.

However, since 2010, the number of animals moved across the border has slumped significantly. Back in 2010, 94,860 cattle were exported to Northern Ireland; this dropped to just 24,571 in 2016 and 26,117 head last year.

Furthermore, there has been a major drop in the number of finished cattle that has been exported to Northern Ireland – falling from 54,233 head in 2010 to just 19,621 head last year.

Looking at these finished numbers in terms of the average Irish weekly beef kill, 54,233 represented the equivalent of 170% of a weekly beef kill in 2010, whereas 19,621 head stood at almost 60% of one week’s kill last year.

Irish cattle exports to Northern Ireland. Data source: Department of Agriculture

What caused the drop?

A number of factors have contributed to the slowdown in exports to Northern Ireland. Firstly, Northern Irish factories find it difficult to sell the beef produced from Irish-origin cattle to their customers.

That comes down to EU labelling regulations that dictate what needs to be put on the pack of beef that is sold to the customer.

Fluctuations in the value of sterling against the euro can also be blamed for the fall in live cattle exports to Northern Ireland. A weaker sterling, which has been a common trend since Brexit was first mooted, essentially allows British and Northern Irish cattle buyers to source cheaper cattle on their domestic market.

In addition, price also has a role to play. Looking at the most recent data available from the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), Irish R3 heifers made the equivalent of 399.3c/kg during the month ending March 4 – just 2c/kg lower than Northern Irish prices (based on €1= 88.5p).

Meanwhile, the gap between Irish and Northern Irish heifers stood closer to 10c/kg during the month ending February 4, which gave purchasers from Northern Ireland a little bit more wriggle room when it came to buying cattle down south for slaughter in Northern Irish plants.