Beef prices and dairy-beef in mainland Europe
Matthew Halpin reports from a recent Bord Bia farmer trip to Germany and Austria.
Matthew Halpin on 28 Aug 2019
In mid-July, Bord Bia rewarded the finalists of the Origin Green farmer awards with a three-day trip to Germany and Austria. After taking part in the judging of the competition, the Irish Farmers Journal was invited on the trip. In total, five farms – a mix of dairy and beef – and a beef processing facility were visited in the region spanning from Munich to Salzburg – all along the foot of the Alps. In this article, we review some of the highlights from a beef perspective.
Steering in a new direction: Lamplhof butcher shop and beef unit, Munich
Located 50km northeast of Munich is the village of Pfaffenhofen an der Glonn, the home of the Lampl family’s butcher shop – Lamplhof – and their 80ha beef and tillage farm.
While the concept of family butcher shops is a niche, master butcher Michael Lampl Jr says it’s a growing one in Germany: “People travel up to 50km to come to us, and that includes many people coming out of Munich city,” he said.
“After a number of food scares in recent times, German consumers are becoming a lot more conscious of where their meat is coming from.
“They are willing to pay more for that assurance,” he added. And paying more they are. Dry-aged, T-bone steaks rested in the fridge with a price tag of €44/kg.
But for this model to work, it needs to be capable of selling a worthwhile volume of meat. “In terms of beef, we need to slaughter three to four steers each week (175 animals/year) to meet demand,” Michael Jr said.
“And our demand is growing about 10% annually.” Each one of these steers comes from the Lampl family’s finishing unit, less than a five-minute drive from the shop.
Stefan Lampl is in charge of running the unit. “We have 80ha of arable ground and a finishing unit,” he said. “We grow wheat, triticale and sugar beet for sale and around 35ha of maize for feeding.”
The finishing unit is eye-catching. Built in 2015, the shed has a capacity for 230 cattle.
We buy all the Fleckviehs within a 10km radius
The layout consists of eight, long, dry-bedded pens with a 27- to 30-head capacity in each. In terms of feed space, for every one animal that is feeding, there will be 2.5 animals behind.
Interestingly, both feeding and bedding is fully automated leaving the total labour input at less than 1.5 hours per day. Feeding takes place five time per day, the diet is shown in Table 1.
At present, the shed is filled with 100 continental Limousin and Charolais bulls and 130 Fleckvieh steers.
Interestingly, the continental bulls will go to the factory and are destined for sale in the open market, while it is the dairy steers that will be sold through the family butcher shop.
“We buy all the Fleckviehs within a 10km radius,” Stefan explained.
“The continental bulls come down from northern Germany.”
The Fleckviehs are bought at around 200kg and are castrated at 250kg. They are eventually slaughtered between 18 and 22 months, at a liveweight of 700kg to 750kg.
Average daily gain (ADG) for steers in the unit is 1.1kg, on average, ranging from 0.8kg to 1.4kg. The continental bulls are purchased at 250kg at around seven months of age.
Target age at slaughter is 16 to 18 months at a liveweight of 720kg to 760kg. Sixty percent grade U while 40% grade E. ADG for these is 1.5kg.
For selling to the factory, any bull under 24 months is classified as a young bull. However, there is no grid-based pricing system.
The current young bull price is €3.45/kg and Stefan says this is delivering a net loss of about €145/head at present.
Last year’s bulls made a profit of €200 to €250/head. On the flip side, selling through their own shop, the margin on the Fleckvieh steers in the unit is currently €300 to €400/head.
“With demand in the butcher shop rising, the number of steers in the shed will be growing and the number of bulls will lessen,” Stefan concluded.
A processor’s perspective: Alpenrind beef factory, Salzburg
The OSI-controlled Alpenrind beef factory in Salzburg slaughters 88,000 cattle annually (1,700/week) and debones around 37,000t of beef per year (700t to 900t/week).
Given the region, 45% of the annual kill is cows while bulls and heifers make up 28% and 18% of the kill, respectively.
Annual turnover at this facility is around €200m. We spoke to managing director Roland Ackermann on a number of points.
In the last five years, we have never purchased cattle as cheap as we are now. But this market is reflective of consumer attitude to meat right now.
Consumption is having an effect. Basic consumption is fine, but there is a big uncertainty over the last 30% – vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians are having an effect.
There is a very small amount of consumers dictating a lot of things like quality, traceability and welfare. The problem is, they don’t want to pay any extra.”
“We do not deal with any farmer directly. We purchase 50% of our cattle through Rinderborse – an association of Austrian farmers.
“The remaining 50% of cattle are purchased through smaller agents.
“We speak to Rinderborse and the smaller agents on a daily basis and tell them what we are looking for – they relay this back to the farmer. We do not feed any cattle ourselves.”
“We have very little competition from Irish beef because it is too highly priced. It’s on a different pricing tier by the time it enters the markets we are trying to enter.
“Our main competitors are Poland. They are really trying to undercut us on pricing; their bull price is currently only €2.60/kg – ours is between €3.40 and €3.50 right now.”
“If someone brings cheap beef in, we have to believe we can export back out to them based on quality.
“Trade means two sides, not just one – if we want to export beef, we have to be willing to import beef too.
“The quality we produce is enough to go into other countries and I firmly believe none of our big customers within the EU will walk away from European beef.”
A rear operation: the Leitenbacher family farm, Teisendorf
Stefan Leitenbacher and his family have four enterprises on the farm – calf-rearing, a biogas plant, a machinery contracting service and a meditation and coaching workshop. Calf rearing accounts for around 30% to 40% of the business.
A total of 500 calves are purchased each year, 95% of which are bulls.
They are all sourced from local dairy farms meaning their breeding is predominantly Fleckvieh. Purchase age is six weeks on average at a weight of 80kg to 90kg.
The average purchase price is €550/head. The calf is then reared indoors for four months and sold at approximately 220kg liveweight.
The average selling price is €850/head leaving a margin of €300/head before costs. The calves that leave here will go to another farm for one year before slaughter at 420kg liveweight.
Upon arrival, calves are vaccinated against pneumonia and they are treated for skin parasites. Coccidiosis is a big issue too and batches of calves are often treated against this.
Mortality within the unit is 3%. Calves receive milk powder – 22% protein and 19% fat – for four to six weeks, starting on two litres twice daily and gradually moving down to two litres once daily. Calves are also offered a TMR from the day they arrive until the day they leave.
The composition and allocation per head of this TMR changes frequently depending on the stage of rearing (Table 2). Over the four months, ADG is 1kg.
Farmers have been able to establish viable beef enterprises in the dairy-dominated country of Austria and the Bavarian region of Germany. How? Via the dual-purpose, Fleckvieh cow.
On each of the dairy farms we visited as part of the trip, beef was viewed as an asset to the business – not a liability – be it selling calves to beef farmers or rearing their own calves through to slaughter.
The Fleckvieh cow was producing from 7,500l up to 10,000l of milk per year depending on the milking system. Her cull value is €1,500 to €2,000 per head.
At the same time, the Fleckvieh bull calf is worth €500 to €600/head at a month of age, leaving its Friesian counterpart behind at around €200/head.
As bulls they are killed into 430kg, U- and R-grade carcases at 24 months. As steers they can reach from 380kg to 400kg dead.
It raises two questions from an Irish point of view – how has the Irish dairy cow been allowed drift so far away from beef production? And how can we make her an attractive proposition to the beef farmer once again?
With so many angles of pressure coming on the suckler cow right now, beef farmers feel they have little option but to look at dairy beef stock – a trip to Bavaria or Austria would leave them feeling slightly bewildered, however.
Meanwhile, the beef price in Germany and Austria is depressed, just like here in Ireland.
It is worrying, however, that if Irish beef is already viewed as being highly priced by the time it gets to the continent, what scope is there for Irish beef prices to rise? Can we market our product sufficiently to command a higher price in the marketplace?