Stronger cattle and sheep exports helped boost the value of livestock exports in 2013. For the year the value of Irish livestock exports increased by 11% to an estimated €240m.

Total live cattle exports up to mid December were a third higher than during the same period in 2012. This is according to the Bord Bia Performance and prospects report published yesterday.

This recovery follows a low point for live exports last year, when shipments reached just 160,000 head in total. Overall exports for 2013 are expected to exceed 210,000 head, slightly below the number of live cattle exported in 2011, it said.

There were two principal drivers of the stronger live export trade: namely that domestic calf prices became a lot more competitive, followed by the resumption of live exports to Libya.

However, exports of weanlings and store cattle to many of Ireland’s traditional markets continue to be impacted by the relatively high prices being paid for stock by domestic beef producers.

Shipments of most categories of stock have increased. Most significantly, the number of calves exported jumped by almost 140 per cent, while exports of weanlings and stores were slightly ahead of the same period last year. Finished cattle exports were 10 per cent lower.

With regard to the major calf markets, exports to Belgium increased by 146 per cent, followed by 114 per cent for the Netherlands. Calf exports to France resumed and reached almost 7,000 head.

Exports to Spain have also increased by 140 per cent, mainly consisting of calves. Weanling exports to Italy fell by 32 per cent. Exports to Northern Ireland were 13 per cent lower.

An important feature in the livestock trade was the resumption in exports to Libya, which accounted for almost 15,000 cattle along with 21,000 sheep up to the end of November. Other North African markets included Tunisia (4,000 head) and Morocco (1,300 head).

In terms of destinations, the UK accounted for 30 per cent of total trade followed by Spain and the Netherlands at 18 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. Libya accounted for six per cent of trade.

Shipments of live pigs eased slightly in 2013 with numbers affected by PRRS in the spring. For the year numbers were back  by around five per cent to 575,000 head.

Live sheep exports remained brisk throughout the year following the commencement of trade to Libya. For the year exports doubled to reach an estimated 80,000 head.

According to Bord Bia, the outlook for live cattle exports is for a continuation of the trend evident in 2013. “As always much will depend on the relative price of Irish cattle. Calf exports are likely to remain steady while exports to Libya also seem set to remain strong.”

Bord Bia did note that ongoing relatively high costs allied with transport costs and the reduced availability of credit to exporters may dampen trade somewhat. “The prospects for live sheep and pig exports will be largely determined by availability and relative prices in potential markets,” it said.