Ireland beefs up its cattle production

At the beginning of the year, Bord Bia forecast an increase in the number of finished cattle supplies in Ireland of 100-110 thousand head, or 6% compared with 2016, driven by an increase of 130,000 in calf registrations in 2015. Combined with little expected change in carcase weights, this could lead to an increase in export availability of 6%, to 565,000 tonnes (cwe). In 2016, beef available for export was 535,000 tonnes. In March the forecast for export availability in 2017 was revised down slightly from previous projections to 555,000 tonnes, which is still 4% higher year on year.

Year to date Irish cattle slaughterings (January – August), rose by 7% compared with the same period in 2016, although carcase weights have been fractionally lighter, according to data from the Central Statistics Office. Together this means beef production has totalled around 400,500 tonnes so far in 2017, just over 5% more than a year earlier.

Irish Cattle slaughterings 2015, 2016 & 2017

So where has this additional beef gone? Ireland is over 600% self-sufficient in beef and veal and so exports play an extra ordinarily important role in the sector’s fortunes. In the year to August, Irish beef and veal exports to the UK were 4% higher on the year at 130 thousand tonnes and accounted for over 55% of total export volumes, according to Irish trade data. However there were declines in volumes shipped to its next biggest trading partners, France and the Netherlands, by 6% and 9% respectively. Exports to Italy were slightly higher, although overwhelmingly the Philippines has shown the biggest additional draw on Irish beef. Ireland exported over 4000 more tonnes to the Philippines compared to 2016 in the year up until August. This has led to the market for forequarters and cheaper cuts recording price rises in excess of whole carcases in recent months.

EU, Irish, UK steer prices

The provisional June survey reported 2% growth in Ireland’s cattle population to 7.36 million head. The number of cattle 2 years and over, excluding cows and bulls grew by 72,600, over 10%. The number of cattle of 1-2 years grew by 3%, or 60,700. These figures might also reflect the fall in live exports recorded in 2015, and the 24,000 fewer live cattle exported in 2016 compared to the year before.  There was further growth in the dairy herd of 3%, Ireland bucking the trend in Europe somewhat, which is experiencing a widespread contraction in dairy numbers. However, numbers of non-dairy cows were down by 2%.

Looking forwards, this would suggest healthy levels of beef supply in the short term, and mirrors the longer term expectation in the UK that more beef might be expected to come from the dairy herd. After that, Brexit of course brings significant uncertainties, especially with the UK being the largest export market for Irish beef.

Duncan Wyatt