Imports of cattle from Northern Ireland for further production in the Republic recorded an increase during 2015 but remain a much smaller trade than the level of Northern exports to Britain.

A total of 2,058 cattle were exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic for further production during 2015, compared to 1,476 head during 2014, according to latest figures from the LMC.

It says the level of export was however below 2013 levels when 2,925 cattle were exported from the North to the South for further production. During 2015, 538 of the cattle exported from the North to the South were male store cattle, an increase from the 318 head exported during 2014.

The LMC says a total of 194 cattle were exported from the North to the Republic for further production during 2016 to date.

Meanwhile, it also says the exports of prime cattle to ROI for direct slaughter remains a very small trade with 1,176 head exported during 2015.

While this was an increase from the 555 head the previous year the trade remains small in comparison to total kill numbers. During 2016 to date 448 prime cattle have been exported from NI to ROI for direct  slaughter, according to the LMC data.

Cross-border trade

The narrowing of the Irish and Northern Irish beef price will have little impact on the cross-border beef trade, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).

Recent figures published by the LMC show that the price difference between Irish and Northern Irish beef stood at just 9c/kg during the week ending February 28.

The lower price gap coupled with a weaker Sterling was expected to make Irish cattle exports to the North more attractive, but according to the LMC’s Economist Seamus McMenamin, this is not the case.

McMenamin said that the volume of Irish cattle imported into the North is likely to remain small in 2016, as Northern Irish processors use Irish beef to maintain beef throughput.

Most of the Irish cattle slaughtered in Northern Ireland are returned back across the border in carcass or cut form.

“The butcher trade also accounts for a very small percentage of Irish beef processed,” he said.

The LMC representative said Irish cattle must spend a 90 residency period in the North to qualify for the Northern Ireland Quality Assurance mark.

This has a negative impact on the number of beef cattle that are imported across the border, he said, as animals purchased for direct slaughter do not qualify for either the North’s quality assurance scheme of the Red Tractor label.

The lack of labeling limits the number of retail markets Irish beef slaughtered in Northern Ireland can be sold into, he said.