Beef cows standing in field© FLPA/Rex/Shutterstock

A slowdown in Irish beef production in the autumn could reduce the threat to the UK’s beef sector that was expected this year, although supplies look likely to increase in the longer term.

Bord Bia, Ireland’s food board, had forecast beef production to be significantly up on last year, but has more recently indicated that supplies for the rest of the year may tighten.

This, combined with a weaker pound making Irish beef less attractive to UK processors, has pushed back the threat to the UK market somewhat, according to analysts at AHDB Beef and Lamb.

With Ireland accounting for about half of all the UK’s beef imports, what happens there has big implications for producers here.

See also: UK beef sector to feel pressure from Ireland in 2016

Irish cattle aged 24-36 months were down by 44,000 head on last year, said AHDB Beef and Lamb, and there had been some easing in the numbers of cattle at export plants in recent weeks, suggesting a tightening of supply.

Focus on specification

“However, the focus on specification, whether it be movement, weight, conformation or age, is still likely to be intense,” warned AHDB senior analyst Debbie Butcher.

“The prospects for the [UK] sector in a large part, as always, will also depend on developments on the retail side of the equation.

“In contrast with the EU, the UK economy performed better last year, but the pace of economic growth could be challenged in the short term given the outcome of the referendum and as caution returns to some consumers.”

Long-term supply pressure

Longer term, Irish supplies could also increase. Cattle throughputs across all categories were up in the first half of 2016, increasing production by 4% on the year to 284,000t, largely due to expansion of the dairy herd, with 70,000 additional calf registrations.

This, combined with a retention of heifers, suggested Ireland’s production could increase again in the longer term, particularly if dairy producers started to feel the full effects of low milk prices, said the levy board.

About 60% of Irish milk is produced between April and August, meaning producers would have netted the majority of their milk cheques when prices were higher last year.