Will Ireland Have an Autumn Cattle Glut?

ANALYSIS - Figures released by the Irish Department of Agriculture has resulted in conflicting reports of a potential cattle glut to be slaughtered in the autumn at Irish meat factories, as Ireland comes to terms with the unexpected Brexit result, writes Eoin McCarthy.
calendar icon 7 July 2016
clock icon 4 minute read

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has played down forecasts of a cattle glut, while Bord Bia and the Minister of Agriculture have predicted that 50,000-80,000 additional cattle would by slaughtered this year compared with 2015.

According to Bord Bia, an additional 50,000-80,000 cattle are expected because:

  • Year to-date cattle slaughterings are already up 18,271 head (to mid-June).
  • The difficult dairy market will contribute to higher availability of cull cows, with a predicted increase of 20-30,000 head expected by year end.
  • Live exports to Northern Ireland (which comprise mainly of finished cattle) have been much lower (down 11,800 or 47 per cent), leaving more animals to be slaughtered in Irish meat plants.
  • Popularity of young bull production has increased.
  • Overall, Bord Bia expects a similar number of steers to be slaughtered this year as last, and for a small increase in heifer supplies, which tend to finish a few months earlier.

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) Livestock Chairman Angus Woods has dismissed any cattle glut by claiming that a decrease of 58,000 head in the 24–36 month group will cancel out any increases.

“I honestly do not believe that there will be a cattle glut because if you take that minus 58,000 figure that was on the 1 May, the figure they had given earlier in 2015 was an extra 50,000 to 80,000 Angus and Hereford calves, so if those calves came on stream earlier they would cancel out that 58,000, so I don’t see a massive glut of cattle,” Mr Woods said.

"The figure that consistently gets forgotten about is the minus 58,000 in the 24-36 month age category."
IFA Livestock Chairman Angus Woods

Mr Woods also claimed that supplies of finished cattle remain extremely tight as evident by the number of cattle slaughtered below the crucial 30,000 figure per week. Therefore, factory agents are very active in attempts to secure numbers of suitably-finished cattle for immediate slaughter.

“Out of the last 10 weeks we have had a kill below 30,000 for 9 of the last 10 weeks, last week was the first time it was over 30,000 which was 30,400 but the week before that was 27,500.

“The numbers are clearly tight based on those figures,” he said.

Edmond Phelan, beef chair of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA), outlined how birth rates in 2015 increased by 100,000 due to dairy expansion following the abolition of milk quotas.

“The births in 2015 were 100,000 more than the previous year, slaughterings are up, but we reckon there are around 80,000 extra cattle in the system that will be coming on stream the end of this year or the start of next year,” Mr Phelan said.

Minister of Agriculture asked to "pull out all the stops”

Mr Phelan urged the Minister of Agriculture Michael Creed to pull out all the stops to get live exports moving out of the country, now that the Turkish market has opened to Irish live exports, and to find new markets for heavier cattle.

“The cattle are there… What we really need is a market for the bigger factory cattle fit for slaughter, cattle around 500-600 kilos, particularly Friesian cattle, similar to the Libyan and Egyptian market that we had years ago.

“They are the cattle we really need to move in a live trade because it would be direct competition with the meat factories,” Mr Phelan said.

Mr Phelan warned that a potential cattle glut could be very serious on the price of cattle and that is why ICSA want to try and get live exports moving before any glut happens.

“Because it’s too late when there’s 70,000 cattle waiting to be slaughtered and there is no market for them. There has to be a market found before the cattle are ready,” he added.

Brexit and premature speculation

Brexit will not affect Irish agriculture until the UK actually leaves the European Union, that’s according to IFA Livestock Chairman Angus Woods.

“Brexit itself makes zero difference if you are talking in the next couple of years, as is widely reported in the media at the moment, everything carries on as is normal for a minimum of 2 years from the time that the UK looks to exit.

“That’s a 2 year time frame where there is no change - the borders, everything, stays as is,” claimed Mr Woods.

Speaking to TheCattleSite, Mr Woods also claimed that sterling value changes could potentially affect the price of cattle in Ireland.

“The only limiting factor in the situation is what will happen to sterling, that’s the only factor that might change [cattle prices], otherwise it is trade as per normal,” he said.

However, Mr Woods claimed that he received a quote from meat processors for cattle to be slaughtered on Thursday 30 June, similar to what he would have seen before the referendum.

Meanwhile, one procurement manager was reluctant to comment on how Brexit would affect beef prices, however he told TheCattleSite: “The whole thing with Brexit is still in flux at the moment. It’s a bit premature to comment to read anything into it at present, it’s a changing landscape so it’s a bit too early to speculate in terms of what the future might hold.”

Cattle data provided by the Department of Agriculture’s AIM (Animal Identification and Movement) database on 1 May 2016.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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