Beef exports to the UK worth more than €1bn a year are slumping as the unfavourable exchange rate makes it less attractive to British buyers.
Yet Ireland has more beef than ever to sell, the latest figures reveal.
Increased beef supplies come as exports to Ireland’s most important beef market continue to fall in the wake of the Brexit vote. According to figures from the UK’s Revenue and Customs service, during September a total of 14,356 tonnes of beef were imported by the UK from Ireland, a 13pc reduction from the corresponding month in 2015, when 16,499 tonnes of beef were imported.
In 2015, Ireland exported an estimated 500,000 tonnes of beef worth approximately €2.41bn – and half of that went to the UK. Despite the recent slump, Ireland continues to be the biggest source of beef imports for the UK, with 129,739 tonnes imported during 2016.
Imports from Ireland accounted for 75pc of total beef imports from EU countries to the UK during the first nine months of 2016.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board in the UK says the fall in Irish imports comes despite lower domestic prices in Ireland on the back of higher production.
While it says average unit prices were still up over 1pc in sterling, it also adds that increased domestic supplies in the UK will have been a strong contributor to the decline in trade levels.
However, according to figures seen by FarmIreland.ie, we could have more beef than ever to sell.
The highest beef kill in 12 years is currently predicted for 2017, while cattle supplies in Ireland could be 120,000 head higher next year, at 1.75m, on the back of increased calvings from Ireland’s expanding dairy sector.
The figures, which were presented by Bord Bia at last week’s Beef Forum, also show that the beef kill in 2016 is now estimated to be close to 1.64 million head, which is up as much as 80,000 on 2015. To date, in 2016 Irish cattle supplies are up 5.1pc or 68,500 head, according to the Bord Bia figures.
IFA president Joe Healy has urged a strong commitment on both sides of the Irish Sea to achieve a positive trading relationship in Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK.
On the beef situation, Mr Healy said that with more than 50pc of our beef exports going to the UK market, the weakness of sterling is a major challenge.
However, the IFA says that exchange rate volatility is not the only determinant of price returns and higher prices are justified and necessary.
“Demand for beef in the UK remains very strong,” IFA national livestock chairman Angus Woods said.
“We are in the high demand Christmas procurement period, and trade has picked up.
“It is simply not acceptable for processors to return an unviable price to our farmers at this time.
“Prices must be restored to viable levels – factories must demand significantly higher prices from their British retailer customers and pass these increases directly back to farmers