The total value of all types of livestock exported from Ireland in 2022 was €230 million, which is 6% of the total of €4 billion in meat and livestock exports from Ireland in 2022, according to Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects Report for 2022/23.

The report outlined that the live export trade continues to provide “an important alternative market for the Irish livestock sector”.

The 2022 value represents an 8% increase from the €215 million figure in 2021.

Source: Bord Bia

Cattle exports account for the majority of the live export trade with 285,000 cattle exported during 2022 and with an export value of €170 million.

Live exports of pigs, principally to Northern Ireland, amounted to 400,000 head during 2022 at an estimated value of €60 million, while live sheep exports totaled 15,000 head valued at just over €2 million.

Live cattle exports increased by 15% compared to 2021 levels, a trend that was mainly driven by an increase in the intra-community trading of calves.

At the Bord Bia Meat Marketing Seminar for 2023 which took place at the Killashee Hotel, Naas, Co. Kildare on Friday (January 13) , Bord Bia’s beef sector manager Mark Zieg gave an overview of cattle exports in 2022 and an outlook for 2023.

He said there remains a steady demand from key markets for Irish calves, weanlings and store cattle for 2023.

The table below shows the live cattle export figures by destination for 2020, 2021 and 2022:

He noted that while market indications would suggest a firm calf export trade in 2023, the longer-term outlook “is particularly challenging with ongoing pressures on the trade”.

In 2022, the live cattle trade continued to be dominated by calves, which accounted for 60% of livestock exports during 2022.

The increase in calf exports in 2022 represents a return to more typical trading levels following the negative impacts of Covid-19 restrictions and weather interruptions in previous years.

According to the report, the Netherlands was the stand-out market for calves in 2022 with 95,000 calves exported to the region, accounting for more than half of the total.

Spain also remained an important market for both dairy and beef-sired calves with 55,000 calves exported here.

Cattle destination trends

The trade in weanling and store cattle to customers in key European markets also performed strongly in 2022 reflecting tighter cattle supplies in key markets driving demand.

Increased activity in exports to international markets in the Middle East and North Africa also contributed to a positive export performance for the category.

Trade with Northern Ireland for both finished cattle and those for further production was more subdued for much of 2022 following a very strong performance in late-2020 and into 2021.

However, tighter cattle numbers on Northern Ireland farms and stable demand for beef in the UK boosted demand for live cattle in the region as we moved into quarter four.

Livestock export prospects

The Bord Bia report noted the short-term outlook for calf exports remains reasonably positive with firm demand and positive feedback for Irish calves from customers in key markets including the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

However, the longer-term outlook for the sector was described in the report as “somewhat uncertain” with reviews at EU level into live exports generally, but particularly into the transport of unweaned calves.

The findings and recommendations of several reviews published in 2022 will now be considered in the drafting of new welfare of animals during transport legislation in 2023. Any proposed changes to the current legislation are expected to come into effect from 2024 onwards.

The outlook for older categories of cattle remains positive in the short term with tighter domestic cattle supplies expected in some key European markets including Italy, Greece and Eastern Europe.

The supply outlook remains subdued in Northern Ireland, with demand expected to be stable for Irish cattle during 2023.