Increased live exporting of cattle from Ireland has been one of the main topics of debate in the country over the past few weeks. I got to have a chat with the manager of Bord bia in Moscow, Alla Barinova, to find out more about Ireland’s newest importer Russia, and the future plans for their industry.
When questioning Alla about Russia’s increased importing of live beef I sought to decipher whether, as theorized by me in a previous article, Russia in the future might look to make its own stamp on the world beef markets. As we know Ireland is the 5th highest exporter of beef in the world, and sits proudly alongside the other superpowers in the market.
With recent live exportations from the country being lauded by many, and increasing significantly, I feel as previously stated that this may increase competition in the market in the future.
With Ireland recently increasing trading with Asian countries(Japan) to great benefits to our economy, and looking to break the Chinese market I feel slightly apprehensive that this is all good news. My fears pointing to the creation of future competition within the industry,
Alla informed me that in the past Russia ceased to have beef cow farms, with most of its beef coming from dairy stock. Alla stated “Specialized beef cattle businesses were introduced only ten years ago” . she also stated that almost 90% of beef still originates from dairy cattle.
Although in recent years 60 new beef farms have been built (since 2010), while Russia has also modernized approx. 47 beef farms.
Alla also informed me that “modern feedlots in South of Russia and the central federal district have enough unused capacity to feed additional cattle”.
The Russian government set up a program of “Agricultural Development in 2013 – 2020” which aims to create conditions for fast growth in agricultural production. VAT exemption is also applicable to purebred animals and bovine semen.
Although Ireland currently accounts for less than one percent of all Russias live imports, there are still signs and calls from within the industry suggesting this is likely to increase.
Russia was the main exporter of beef to countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in recent years, although in 2016 exports of cattle decreased by 58%.
This is due to increased prices received from Russian factories and also due to the country's aim of bettering their own industry and breeds.
Russia as Alla informed me are a “niche market” and “It will therefore not be taking tens of thousands of Irish animals on an annual basis, as is the case with some other destinations like the Netherlands, Spain, Italy or most recently Turkey.”
Alla also suggested that Russian buyers are interested in sourcing mainly pedigree beef and dairy females in order to improve their own herds’ genetic resources.
When questioned whether it is possible in future years that Russia will become more of a force within the market Alla concided that the industries improvements are “likely to deliver a welcome alternative market for producers of these high quality animals.”, before insisting any potential knock on effects “on availability of animals for processing, sizes of the national suckler herds” will be “very limited”. This is due to the very specific nature of the stock involved along with the small numbers likely to be exported to Russia.
From talking to Alla my fears have temporarily subsided. Although in my opinion just because Russia only import small numbers of live Irish stock currently, there is no reason to suggest these numbers won’t increase in the future.
This comes with the news this week that Angus Woods, IFA National Livestock Chairman has said he is confident of an increased number of contracts secured by Irish exporters for the Turkish and other markets. He also added that the live trade will be active throughout the summer and into Autumn. Mr Woods also added live calf exports have increased substantially over the past year.
Speaking in the dáil on Thursday last Fianna Fáil agricultural spokesman, Charlie Mc Conologue called for the minister for Agriculture to abolish live export inspection fees. “I suggest the minister looks at removing the veterinary fee altogether, as it is a barrier and an additional cost to live exports,”. He also added “It is important that live exports are there as an alternative and to ensure there is competition in the market, and such a move would encourage it.” This in turn would help increase live exportation numbers from the country were it to happen.
This all might be good news for the industry in the short term. But I also feel that we need to look to the long term also, in order to protect one of our economies vital industries. As the saying goes, “Better be safe than sorry”.