… Year-on-year, the September monthly result represents a huge 31 per cent fall…



Another big drop in beef exports


Ken Wilcock, Queensland Country Life (Australia)

9 Oct 2020


Another month and another massive drop in beef exports, according to Department of Agriculture figures released late last week showing just 72,619 tonnes were shipped for September.


October 2016 was the last time we saw an equivalent monthly result. But that was all to do with an intense wet weather pattern interrupting supply, something we may well see again before the end of this year.


But, for now, the historically low figure is simply a reflection of a general supply contraction due to a rundown in herd numbers that started when drought set-in after the last La Nina event came to an end in 2012.


The processing sector had been expecting cattle availability to hit the wall sooner, but when the crunch came in July this year, the drop-off was abrupt.


From a respectable 96,000t in June, beef exports fell to 88,000t in July, then to 78,000t in August and now a further reduction of near similar magnitude in September.


The August and September figures stand out because both represent a low point for these respective months during the past nine years - and possibly longer.


Year-on-year, the September monthly result represents a huge 31 per cent fall.


The cumulative year-to-date figure of 793,104t is almost 103,000t down on 2019, which is a decline of 11.5 per cent.


The questions this raises are what can processors expect in the way of supply in what remains of the final quarter, and what will that mean for close-out of the season and exports for the year?


Anecdotal reports suggest there are no more cattle than what is currently coming through.


Big numbers of bullocks are not expected from traditional areas, such as the Channel Country, as production there has largely turned to feedlot weight.


Also, cows from second round musters that might have been expected to come forward are - instead - being given another chance in the herd.


If the much anticipated La Nina rain does not come until summer, it would seem likely that numbers in the northern regions will progressively shorten-up as the year runs down.


In the south, reports suggest the traditional breeding areas are intent on rebuilding herds.


While the mixed farming country seems relatively light-on for cattle due to availability and price - and is focused instead on cropping.


All up, it may be difficult to even hold monthly volume at the relatively low level of 70,000t for the remaining months of the year - bringing into question whether exports can reach one million tonnes for the year.


On the other hand, rain any time now - and into summer - depending on location and extent, would likely cut short what is left of the 2020 season.


Overall, across export sales, major markets show quite a big variation in performance - ranging from a reduced take of just 5.7 per cent in Korea to 22.4 per cent in China (on cumulative year-to-date figures).


Korea stands out because its imports of Australian beef have remained relatively stable throughout the year, albeit at a reduced level.


To August, monthly tonnage was averaging...