2020 Australian beef exports fall 15pc, to 1.039 million tonnes


Jon Condon, BEEF Central (Australia)

January 6, 2021


HAMPERED by reduced national cattle herd size after years of drought, Australia’s beef exports to all markets fell dramatically to 1,039,410 tonnes last calendar year, trade statistics released this morning by the Department of Agriculture show.


Volume was back almost 190,000 tonnes or 15.4 percent on the preceding 2019 year, as better seasonal conditions in some cattle regions – particularly in southern states – prompted herd rebuilding and reduced female kill. Declining beef price competitiveness in some export markets, and fewer calves born as a result of continental-scale drought in 2018-19 also contributed to the result.


Export volume last year was the lowest seen since the 2016 and 2017 years, when herd rebuilding was in full swing after earlier drought events.


While Australia’s export beef trade has been highly volatile over the last decade because of the drought liquidation/herd rebuilding cycle, last year’s total volume of 1.03 million tonnes is well below the industry’s five-year average for exports of 1.08mt.


Year of two halves


2020 was a year of two halves for beef production and exports, with first-half volumes January-June back just 3pc on the previous year, before falling dramatically during the second half because of outright slaughter cattle shortage, and the commence of herd rebuilding in some areas following drought-breaking rain.


In it’s mid-year industry projections issued last July, MLA forecast that drought’s shadow would see 2021 beef exports reach only 1.029mt – an insignificant rise of just 6000t over its forecast for the 2020 year (remember the year was still only half completed at the time of the projection was issued) of 1.023mt.


Given average seasonal conditions for the year ahead, MLA forecast 2022 exports to rise to 1.1mt, before recovering further to 1.2mt in 2023.


At its recent high-point for exports in 2019 during the depths of the drought liquidation, Australian beef exports hit almost 1.23mt.


All markets impacted


All major export markets were impacted to some extent by last year’s lower production – some worse than others – while political, market protection and other trade issues also exerted an influence.


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