Irish beef market outlook 2024 - what could it mean for the UK?

Wednesday, 10 January 2024

Industry reports point to a positive year in 2024 for the Irish beef sector. But what could the impact be on the UK beef market?

Key points

  • Irish beef production fell by 4.5% in 2023
  • Output expected to fall by a further 4% in 2024 as cattle supplies tighten
  • Reduced Irish supply and tighter EU market expected to support cattle prices in 2024, could suggest positive undertones for UK market.

A brief recap of 2023

Despite some fluctuation, the Irish beef market experienced strong finished cattle prices in 2023, particularly in the first quarter of the year. This came as prime beef production decreased by 4.5% vs 2022, on the back of tighter supplies and lighter carcase weights. On the trade front, the total quantity of beef exported from Ireland fell from the year before, particularly driven by lower shipments to markets in the EU and further afield (latest data available to October). Trade to the UK remained similar to 2022 levels.

Lower Irish beef production expected in 2024

According to their latest outlook report, Teagasc (the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) forecast Irish prime beef production to fall by 4% in 2024 against last year. This is based on population data for animals aged 1-2 years old.

The Irish dairy herd has been in growth for several years. This has generally outweighed contraction in the number of suckler cows, meaning the total breeding herd has been broadly stable. Teagasc forecast a stable dairy cow population in 2024, with a greater proportion of beef expected to come from the dairy herd. This is expected to contribute to lighter average carcase weights, and mean less beef processed per animal.

More widely, EU beef production is forecast to decrease by 1% in 2024, following continued contraction of the dairy and suckler herds.

Record live exports further tighten Irish cattle supplies

Irish cattle supplies have been further tightened by strong live exports, particularly of calves into continental Europe. Government data shows that in the year to 23 December 2023, total live cattle exports were nearly 16% ahead of the previous year, with calf exports up 21%.

Irish cattle prices expected to remain firm in 2024

Tighter cattle supplies in Ireland and in the EU are expected to keep finished cattle prices supported in 2024. Teagasc forecast the annual average Irish finished cattle price to rise by 3% against last year.

What could the Irish outlook mean for the UK market?

A positive outlook for Irish cattle prices could offer encouraging undertones for British cattle prices, due to the strength of the relationship between both markets. The UK price outlook may be further supported by the British sourcing commitments of several domestic retailers. UK cattle slaughter is forecast to remain similar to 2023, with tighter cattle numbers expected towards 2025, again potentially supportive of cattle prices. However, consumer demand is of course the other half of the picture. We’ll be exploring the full interactions for the UK market in 2024 through our market outlook, which will be published over the coming weeks.

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