The number of Irish cattle exported during 2016 has declined by 21.4% on the corresponding period in 2015, figures from Bord Bia show.
As of December 3, almost 135,000 head of Irish cattle were exported to international markets – a decline of 36,690 head on the same period last year.
According to figures from Bord Bia, the number of Irish cattle shipped to both Northern Ireland and Britain dropped by 55.9% (28,962 head) and 26.7% (2,337 head) respectively.
Looking at the total exports to Continental Europe, the number of cattle exported declined by 15.4% or 16,471 head, with countries like Italy and the Netherlands posting the biggest falls in shipments.
On a more positive note, Irish live cattle exports to other or non-EU markets jumped by 219.9% or 12,319 head during 2016, it shows.
This increase has been largely driven by an increase in exports to both Turkey and Libya, with the former importing some 12,303 head of Irish cattle as of December 3.
Exports to Northern Ireland fall 50%
According to Bord Bia’s Livestock Sector Manager, Joe Burke, the number of Irish live cattle exported in 2016 has declined by over 20%.
“We have seen a very significant decline in the movement of animals to Northern Ireland. Last year our exports there were almost 60,000.
“This year to date, we have only exported 23,000 and that represents a decline of over 50%,” he said recently.
He added that there is not one individual factor for this decline and a number of factors have contributed to the slow down in exports from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland and Britain.
Some of it has been down to fluctuation in the exchange rate, he said, but Northern Irish factories also find it difficult to sell the beef produced from Irish-origin cattle to their customers.
That comes down to EU labelling regulations, which have not changed, they just dictate what needs to be put on the pack of beef that is sold to the customer.
“The other is down to what supermarkets and other customers will accept.
“They will accept Irish beef in most cases in Britian, they will accept British beef, but this other [beef born in Ireland and slaughtered in Northern Ireland] category isn’t acceptable to the majority of these retail and manufacturing customers,” he said.
Exports to Italy dwindle
The number of Irish cattle exported to Italy has also fallen this year, he said, with exports back by about 50,000 head from the highs seen in previous years.
“There is a number of reasons for this.
“One would be that the principal supplier of weanlings into the Italian market would be France and last year France wasn’t as competitive down in Italy, because they exported an awful lot of cattle into Turkey.
This year they have been restricted in the Turkish market due to Bluetongue disease, so France is no longer able to supply weanlings into Turkey.
“They have been far more competitive on the Italian market. French weanlings down there have been competitively priced and as a result it has been more difficult for Irish cattle to compete.”
The Bord Bia representative added that Irish exporters have also turned their attention to Turkey, which had an impact on their ability to supply other markets such as Italy.
Transport regulations sees calf exports drop
The Livestock Sector Manager added that there were far fewer calves exported this spring, as it became more difficult to ship calves to the Netherlands due to transport regulations.
The transport requirements of the Dutch authorities have tightened and now you can only travel for nine hours instead of 12.
“That means you have an extra resting stage and you have to feed and rest the calves again.
“That is making the job more expensive and complicated. That is one of the factors that has contributed to the decline in calf exports,” he said.
But, Burke said that the quantity of calves shipped to Spain increased by about 25% this year, and this market mainly takes better quality Holstein Friesian bull calves.