EU cattle herd shows signs of decline
The number of cattle slaughtered across the EU in the first months of the year has dropped by 1%, totalling 8.6 million, according to an Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board analysis.
"While Ireland did record a large increase on the year, this was not enough to compensate for the slowdown in pace in Poland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Carcase weights in the year to April averaged 298kg/head for the EU. This is nearly 3kg more than the same period last year; some nations recorded up to a 38kg year on year increase in carcase weights. Heavier carcase weights are likely a result of producers compensating with the lack of available forage last year with concentrate feeds. Additionally, a mild winter and strong grass growth in the spring would have also supported growth rates", explained Felicity Rusk, AHDB analyst.
Heavier average carcase weights have almost compensated for the decline in slaughter pace. EU beef production in the first four months this year reached 2.6 million tonnes, a marginal decline (-0.2%) compared to the same period last year. While production in April was up by 3% on the year, this was not enough to compensate for a 5% drop in production in March.
The drought and extreme heat that has been felt on the continent since the end of June is expected to be having a major impact on beef production. According to Rabobank, increased slaughter rate has been noted in Northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Poland. With feed prices expected to rise, producer margins are likely to come under pressure, which could lead to some additional cattle coming forward. With the dry weather expected to continue, EU beef production is expected to remain high over the next couple of months.
EU exports (excluding intra-EU trade) reached 145,000 tonnes in the first four months of the year, 4% (5,200 tonnes) more than in the same period last year. Mirroring production, exports in March declined by 3%, but was compensated for by growth in the other months. However, growth has not been recorded across all categories. While exports of frozen beef increased by over half in the first four months of the year, fresh beef exports have not fared so well, falling by 16% on the year. Offal exports also increased by over half compared to last year, with particular notable growth in frozen livers. Exports of processed beef products fell by 11% compared to the same period last year.
Hong Kong remains the largest export destination of EU beef and offal, with 22,500 tonnes exported in the first four months of this year. However, this is a 12% decline compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, exports to both China and Vietnam have doubled compared to last year. This is likely due to the increased demand for protein, as both these nations have an ongoing epidemic of African swine fever decimating their domestic pig herds.
Meanwhile, EU imports have fallen by 8% in the year to April, to 83,200 tonnes. This has mainly come from a decline in processed product. Imports of fresh, boneless product have fallen by 4% compared to last year, though it still accounts for the majority of EU imports. The majority of the decline has come from Brazil and Uruguay. Though, shipments have the potential to increase in the future following the recently signed agreement between the EU and the South American trade bloc, Mercosur.