Massive difference per head continues between Irish and UK cattle prices

As we approach the second week of November, Irish cattle prices (deadweight) have remained relatively steady for the past number of weeks. However, prices achieved in the UK are still well ahead of returns made by farmers on this island.

Irish R3 heifer prices have dropped to over 7c/kg below the EU average, figures from the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) show.

During the week ending October 28, the Irish R3 heifer price stood at 378.7c/kg – up from 377.3c/kg during the month previous, while the EU average R3 heifer price was 386.1c/kg.

These prices are exclusive of VAT, Bord Bia Quality Assurance bonuses or any breed-specific bonuses that may be secured.

According to the LMC, this placed the Irish price of 22.7c/kg lower than the equivalent price in Northern Ireland and a massive 42c/kg below the price paid in Britain during the week ending October 28.

For example, if we compare these prices on a per head basis – on a 300kg R3 heifer carcass – this puts the price difference between Irish and Northern Irish heifers at €69/head in favour of farmers operating north of the border and at €126/head for beef farmers in Britain.

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In fact, the report indicates that British farmers received the second highest price for R3 heifers – with a price of 420.7c/kg – while Italy moved to top spot with an R3 heifer price of 428.1c/kg (up almost 11c/kg).

Prices this week

This week, factory agents are offering 375c/kg for factory-fit bullocks, while base quotes of 385c/kg are on the table for heifers.

Regular customers or farmers with large numbers of in-spec cattle are in the best position to secure 5c/kg higher.

Also Read: Beef trade: Prime quotes steady, but cows under pressure

Cows have come under increased pressure. As it stands, processors are offering 290-300c/kg for P-grade cows.

Negotiations are starting at 300-310c/kg for O-grade cows, while finishers supplying better-quality R and U-grade cow quotes start at 330-355c/kg. Factories specialising in cows are paying the higher prices; the location and demand of individual processing plants plays a role in the price being quoted to farmers for cows.

‘Factories can pay more’

Last week, the IFA President – Joe Healy – called on the factories to immediately increase prices by another 10c/kg and pass back the improvements in the UK market prices and positive changes to sterling.

Healy said the loss-making prices from the factories over recent weeks have inflicted serious damage on Irish livestock farmers and the beef sector.

Joe Healy

The IFA president said UK cattle prices have increased consistently for the last eight weeks and are currently at £377/kg (R3 grade steer) – the equivalent to €4.51/kg including VAT.

He said the price gap between Irish and UK prices has now widened, which shows that the factories are not returning a fair market price to farmers and could pay a lot more.