Elliott and Thomas Potterton, the father and son team who run Delvin Mart.

Prices at marts at all-time high and numbers up for time of year

Cattle prices in the marts are at an all-time high with numbers on sale well up for this time of the year. At Delvin Mart last Thursday, improved trade was seen across the board with factories and abattoirs competing for lots and farmers cashing in on the high prices.

Thomas Potterton of Potterton Auctioneers, who own the mart, speaking after the sales, reported that prices are up on average €200 a head on this time last year. "It’s hard to explain why prices are so strong and no one knows how long it will last, but factories seem to be very anxious so there must be a shortage of beef," he said.

Trade is good at the moment and there is no sign of it slipping. In another month or so farmers will be buying in store cattle for the winter, and that will keep a floor under the trade, Mr Potterton said.

June and July are traditionally quiet times at the marts, but this year sales are very big, partly because farmers are aware of the good prices on offer, but also because grass was getting tight due to the dry spell. The rain over the last week has "freshened up the land a lot".

Farmers are in great form because of the strong prices, but they miss the social aspects of the marts. Mr Potterton pointed out that the canteen at Delvin mart is now open for outdoor dining and farmers will hopefully soon be able to socialise more.

Forward store bullocks were well up on the same period last year at Thursday’s mart – from €990 to €1,120 on average while light store bullocks were up from €780 to €850. Store cattle were making up on €3 a kilo while forward store bullocks were making up to €2.89 a kilo, a Hereford bullock weighing 533 kilos made €1,540.

Heavier lots saw the biggest price hike. In July 2020, the average price for a bullock weighing 550 to 600 kilos was €1072 and last Thursday those bullocks were averaging €1,250, up €180 a head. A Simmental weighing 580 kilos made €1,480 or €2.55 per kilo and a Limousin weighing 590 kilos made €1,410 or €2.39 a kilo.

In the still heavier lots, 600 to 650 kilos, bullocks made up to €2.51 a kilo. A Belgian Blue weighing 605 kilos made €1,520 – €2.52 a kilo.

Mr Potterton reported a particularly strong trade for Aberdeen Angus bullocks and heifers with prices peaking at €2.59 as kilo recorded for a 690 kilo Angus making €1,790.

The highest price paid for a bullock at Delvin mart last week was €1,940 for a 795 kilo Charolais – €2.44 per kilo.

Light store heifers weighing between 300 and 400 kilo made from €1.70 a kilo up to €2.66. A Limousin heifer weighing 365 kilos sold for €970. The average price for that category of stock is €2.27 a kilo at the moment compared to an average of €2.05 last July.

In the 400 to 500 kilo category prices peaked at €2.67 a kilo for a Charolais weighing 405 kilos and selling for €1,080. The next best price was €2.64 a kilo for a 405 kilo Charolais that made €1,070.

The heavier heifers – 500 kilos upwards, averaged on the day €1,340 and the average last year was €1,141, a difference of €200. This category peaked at €2.72 a kilo with the highest price made on the day being a heifer that scaled at €780 selling for €1,820, €1,040 on top of the weight. A 585 kilo Charolais made €1,530. The prices generally ranged between €1.73 to €2.62per kilo.

Mr Potterton reported a "very strong dry cow trade" at Delvin remarking that there is a lot of competition from the factories and the abattoirs and also from farmers who are buying cows to feed for a couple of months and sell on.

There were not many light cows on offer last Thursday, but they were making from €1.40 a kilo up with heavier cows peaking at €2.31 a kilo. That price was achieved for a Limousin cow that scaled 615 kilos and changed hands at €1,420. Other notable prices included a 660 kilo Limousin that sold for €1,500 or €2.27 a kilo. The average price for heavier cows was €1.78 per kilo compared to €1.52 last July.

Mr Potterton says that marts would not have been able to trade during the lockdown if it had not been for the online applications. They have changed the way cattle are sold and he predicts that this new method of selling will stay and complement ring side buying and selling. Since restrictions have eased sellers are allowed into the seller’s box, however farmers have gotten used to the drop and go system whereby the mart sells the animals subject to the owners being satisfied and then contacts the seller to ascertain if they are happy with the price. In general, virtually all stock are sold within a 95% plus clearance every week.

Covid-19 has been a very challenging time for everybody but Thomas has been struck by how well farmers have embraced the online system which works extremely well with ringside bidding. He is also looking forward to the day when restrictions are lifted and the mart can again fulfil that all important social aspect that marts are renowned for the last 60 or more years.