The Irish hide business has experienced cataclysmic changes in the past eighteen months and the upheavals have not yet finished. Irish meat companies, north and south, have been consolidating their operations and a number of the plants have grown considerably over the past few years and have now taken over control of their own hides.

There has been some debate as to how effectively some of them have handled the transition. It really does not matter because they have begun to sell their own hides. This has been the prime cause for the closure of the hide companies in the past eighteen months as it is impossible to compete with an on-site operation.

Also, even if the current trend for iced/chilled hides does change to salted hides for the Chinese marketplace, those companies who are currently committed to chilling can change to salting.

This is highlighted by the fact that for the first time ever, delegations from the five largest meat processing companies visited the Hong Kong fair. Previously, only two of these companies have sold salted hides to China.

So, back to the original question: Whither the hide business in Ireland? There is a saying in Ireland that goes as follows: ‘What goes around, comes around.’

Currently, the meat business is going through very tough times and plants are looking at their hides and, by selling direct to tanners, believe that they get a better return and have lower processing costs. On the surface, this is correct.

However, the hidden cost of diverting your senior management team to work on your byproducts as opposed to concentrating on the core business is one that will surface eventually.

Furthermore if, as expected, Italy continues to decline and the bulk of business shifts to China, then salting will come back. And, due to the type of contracts in China, usually minimum contract of six containers per time, the individual plants will not be in a position to service this market.

In theory, the abattoirs could combine their hides but, in practice, they tend to be extremely competitive with each other in the meat business so they are unlikely to co-operate in the hide business and form some kind of partnership. Consequently, in time, a facilitator, ie a hide market, will be necessary to handle this business. Time will tell if this theory works out!

Prices rose on low kills and, at the end of March, were as follows:

36kg+ …………………….…….. 71p

31-35.5kg …………………..….. 83p

26-30.5kg ……………………….. 85p

22-25.5kg ……………………… 92p

Cows were sold for the month at £18.50 per hide.

All prices are ex yard. Fellmongering hogs went for £3.40 as the season draws to a close.