In welcoming the stable outlook for beef in 2014 predicted by forecasts provided by the EU Management Committee for Animals Products, Michael Guinan, chairperson of ICMSA beef and cattle committee, said he was confident that prices would remain strong for 2014 and efforts must continue to consolidate and improve the prices.

“The changing EU beef supply balance will provide opportunities for the Irish beef and cattle sectors into the future and it is ICMSA view that new market opportunities will arise for both beef and live cattle of all ages.

“Production in Europe is expected to be 6.759 million tonnes in 2013 a drop of 2.4 per cent from 2012. Demand remained higher than supply at 7.107 million tonnes. Production in Europe is expected to increase by 1.5 per cent in 2014 with demand only rising 0.2 per cent resulting in little movement on average prices across the continent. The EU will still be an importer of beef in order to fill the difference between demand and supply.”

In terms of slaughterings in Ireland, the ICMSA  noted this was eight per cent higher in 2013 from 2012.

“Despite this increase prices rose higher in 2013, which is very encouraging. Also following on from an overall increase in cattle numbers of six  per cent in 2012, this should lead to higher cattle slaughtering throughput in 2014.”

He also observed that calf births to date in 2013 are below 2012 levels with a substantial decrease (seven per cent) in suckler birth registrations. “This may slow some of the throughput for 2015 and beyond,” he said.

A further challenge in the next year is to bridge the price gap between Irish and UK prices, he stressed.

“These have diverged in the past 12 months and  must be addressed quickly as well as a fair price returned from processors in Ireland,”

In conclusion, Guinan said, with Irish beef numbers expected to increase from 2015 and beyond due to the removal of quotas, there will need to be more market outlets available to processors and the ongoing availability of the live export market.

“The market outlook for beef is positive and the challenge is to ensure that the maximum possible price is returned to farmers,” he added.