The widening gap in beef price between Ireland and Britain has caused increased anger and resentment among farmers on both sides of the Irish border and prompted a second crisis meeting to be held by farming unions.
That meeting was scheduled last night (Wednesday) in Cookstown by the Ulster Farmers Union and followed a similar meeting in Portlaoise last week.
The meeting included members of the UFU beef and lamb and hill farming committees as well as representatives from the Irish Farmers Association (IFA). It was attended by various political representatives.
The major tone of the meeting was that Irish farmers (north and south) are determined to ensure that they don't become a supply line of cheap, undervalued beef for the British market.
Chairman of the UFU beef and sheep committee, Ray Elkin, said he was calling for fairness for farmers in Ireland and said that it was clear that the beef industry lacked serious competition.
Since early summer, beef prices have steadily fallen in Ireland while prices in Britain (the major market for Irish beef) have moved in the other direction.
R4 grading cattle in Britain are now averaging close to 352p/kg. Farmers selling R4s in Scotland are being paid 363p/kg.
Farmers in the south of England saw the gap close significantly towards the north of England price last week -- they are now being paid around 340p/kg.
This all compares with only 316p/kg paid for R4s in NI last week.
The prices in NI are being strongly influenced by prices in the Republic of Ireland, where quotes for R grading steers are as low as 385c/kg and heifers as low as 400c/kg.
That works out at about 290p and 300p/kg respectively.
In NI, factories followed through on their threat to take 4p/kg to 6p/kg off quotes this week. Base quotes for U-3 grade cattle are now at 310p/kg.
The meat plants are making the most of an autumn flush of cattle, with 9,320 cattle slaughtered last week, the biggest kill of the year.
But some agents admit this is unlikely to last and the supply/demand balance could soon be back in favour of farmers.
There are also reports of numbers starting to tighten in the south with the improvement in the weather.
This is putting some upward momentum into the market, which should start to curtail the numbers coming north.
Last week, a total of 1,165 were imported, bringing the total in the last four weeks to 4,263 head.
There are reports that NI factories are paying up to 315p/kg flat to secure loads of good quality southern Irish heifers.
While not all factories are importing southern cattle (for example, the two ABP factories have a policy not to import cattle from the south -- where they are major players in beef processing) all factories in NI are collectively benefiting from the access to cheaper southern cattle and the drag this is having on local prices.
Lambs are also back slightly with factories quoting 360p/kg on the back of a slightly easier trade in the south.
With numbers tight in Britain, the gap in prices between here and Britain is again up to around 60p/kg.
Meat Trade News Daily Supporting British Pig Farmers
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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