Martin Coughlan: Why isn‘t the global beef price surge trickling down to our farmers?

This time last week there was great scepticism among many in the farming community as to whether the farmer protest that had just kicked off in Dublin was a good idea.

Most beef finishers I spoke to were afraid of a negative reaction leading to a public relations disaster.

Let‘s be honest – the difficulties that finishers have experienced this autumn were not helped when the last round of militant action ran a month too long.

Prices for bullocks and heifers actually fell by 5-10c/kg within two weeks of the factories re-opening at that time. And stress levels climbed as the backlog in the system caused by that protest allowed factories to pick and choose. No finisher was unaffected, with bull men the worst hit.

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Yet last week‘s tractor blockade in Dublin showed that direct action along French lines can get results.

Sometimes peaceful direct action is necessary.

The reality is the factories have used the smokescreen of a numbers backlog to make massive profits this autumn off the backs of beef farmers.

With Chinese demand driving world beef prices steadily upwards, our beef barons have pocketed every cent of a world beef price boom.

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My research shows that the R3 steer price to the middle of November in the US is up €1.16/kg to €3.69/kg. That‘s a 45.8pc increase in 12 months.

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Beef in Uruguay is up 42.2pc to €3.91/kg.

Meanwhile, factory prices in Australia for those better steers are up 10c/kg to €3.39/kg on a year ago, with the O3 cow up 9.9pc to €2.77/kg.

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Comparable Irish prices see the R3 steer back 24c/kg or 6.6pc on 12 months ago, averaging just €3.42/kg.

The Irish O3 grade cow at €2.59/kg is also back, 24c/kg or 8.5pc to the middle of last month.

On these statistics alone, last week‘s action was more than understandable.

It is now time, however, to step back and let the Beef Taskforce meet and begin the process of securing the returns the primary producer and finisher should be getting.

Meanwhile, factory quotes for stock remained stable yesterday with bullocks not getting much above €3.45/kg and heifers on €3.50/kg.

Bulls remain static, with under-24 month prices continuing to see U grades on €3.50/kg, Rs on €3.40 and Os back to €3.20/kg.

However, I have been getting reports that once the animals are consistently well finished, the weight limits at some plants have risen to 480kg.

And some southern plants are sending full loads from the midlands for feeders who could not secure deals to move more than a handful at a time locally.

Indo Farming

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