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Meat Market Review 2019

Beef and live cattle exports

Cattle supplies fell by 3% or 60,500 head to 1.74 million. The reduction came from a fall in kill numbers for steers (-41,000) and cows (-48,000) although other categories have increased: young bulls (+5,500) and heifers (+17,000).

Improved grazing conditions in 2019 saw carcase weights increase by 6.8kg on average, offsetting the reduced cattle numbers, leading to a 1.5% reduction in beef production to 624,000 tonnes.

Overall, Irish beef exports (excluding offal) declined by 10% in value in 2018 to a value of €2.1 billion from €2.32 billion in 2018.


Live Exports

Live exports increased by 20%, the highest since 2010, at 300,000 heads. Again this year, calf exports dominate the live trade with numbers up 24% to reach 200,000, driven by a 73% increase in exports to the Netherlands. However, adult cattle exports increased by 22% to 29,000 head and weanlings and stores recorded modest growth of 3% to reach 66,000 heads.

Exports to Turkey fell by 20% to 10,239 following the suspension of import licenses due to over-supply in the Turkish market. After two years of decline, exports to Northern Ireland rose by 37% to 32,616 while sales to the UK remained static at 5,397 head.


Trade Picture 

Total beef consumption across the EU fell by 0.9% reflecting a shift in dietary choices. For Irish beef exporters this reduction in demand was most keenly felt in the UK markets which saw an 11% decline in the volume of Irish beef exports, to 265,000 tonnes. The UK now accounts for 47% of Irish beef exports compared to 52% in 2018, valued at €990 million. 

Exports to Continental markets remained static at 250,000 tonnes, however France recorded 4% growth and Germany 3%. International markets recorded significant growth, rising to 45,000 tonnes – an 80% increase on last year. International markets now account for 8% of Irish beef exports, led by the Philippines at 18,000 tonnes (valued at €34 million). After the first full year of trading, beef exports to China reached €31 million or 12,000 tonnes.



Across the entire EU, beef consumption fell by 0.9%, however in our key export market of the UK, consumption fell by 2.1%. Consumption in France (the second largest market for Irish beef) fell by 3.1% while Sweden recorded the largest decline in consumption at 3.5%. Positively, beef consumption rose in both the Netherlands (1.3%) and Italy (0.2%) while German beef consumption is unchanged.



Reflecting EU-wide trends, Irish pig supplies (including live exports) fell 1.5% during 2019 to 3.4 million head. Total EU pigmeat production fell by 1% with production in Denmark falling by 6.8% and Poland by 4.6%. Production in Germany – the largest pigmeat producer in the EU – fell by 2.2%.

Following a disappointing year in 2018 (and the latter part of 2017), prices recovered strongly from the 2nd quarter last year. The increase in prices can be attributed to the dramatic supply demand created in Asia as African Swine Fever (ASF) decimates local production.

Average pig prices were 18% higher in 2019 versus 2018 at €1.64/kg excluding VAT. By the end of 2019, Irish prices were making record prices at €1.90/kg excluding the VAT.

The strong prices led to a 14% rise in the value of pigmeat exports to reach close to €1 billion for the first time (€941 million).

In 2019, EU pigmeat exports rose by 18% higher to 3.9 million tonnes, with exports to China rising by 63% in the first 10 months of the year. Irish pigmeat exports to China are expected to reach a record of 82,000 tonnes for the year.



Irish poultry production hit record numbers of 106 million birds in 2019 with exports increasing by 5% in value to €306 million. Poultry imports to Ireland fell by 3%, while the EU overall saw an 11% increase in imports from outside the EU.

EU chicken output increased by 2% to 12.5 million tonnes while globally poultry production continues to grow with production at 99.5 million tonnes in 2019.



It was a challenging year for the Irish sheep sector with strong UK lamb supplies (6.89 million heads through UK factories) and a 2% reduction in consumption across the EU suppressing prices. Carcase weights reached a ten year of 21.19kg up 0.7kg on 2018 and average weights for spring lambs were 20.62kg up 1% on last year. However, throughput was down 7% on last year leaving overall sheepmeat production down 3% on last year to 67,415 tonnes. Spring lamb disposals were just 1% back on 2018 while hogget numbers were down 11% to 739,027.

An extended version of this article was originally published in the Irish Farmers’ Journal 18 January.