Live Export

Australia’s largest cattle export port status for 2019 goes down to wire

James Nason, 20/01/2020

The Port of Townsville.

THE port of Townsville came within a shipment or so of becoming Australia’s largest cattle export port in 2019, official trade data for the year shows.

Townsville shipped 364,046 cattle in the last calendar year, just 9790 head short of the 373,836 exported from Darwin in the same period, according to Department of Agriculture data.

A further 9118 buffalo were shipped from Darwin in 2019, taking the total number of livestock exported from the NT port in 2019 to 383,200.

As the graph on this page shows Darwin has long been held the mantle of Australia’s largest livestock export port, but numbers from Townsville have also increased to large volumes in recent years, particularly following the emergence of the market for heavier cattle to Vietnam five years ago.

Source: Department of Agriculture livestock export data 2014-2019 to December 31, 2019.

“It all comes down to the drought in the Northern Territory, and the shortage of numbers there, and I think we’re filling the gap right now,” Townsville livestock agent Tim McHugh said.

Mr McHugh said another trend in the past year had been exporters increasingly looking to share larger shipments rather than sending smaller shipments on their own.

The Department of Agriculture told Beef Central the average (mean) number of cattle per consignment (an individual shipment can include consignments from multiple exporters) is around 2400 head from Darwin, and 3400 head from Townsville.

After an extremely wet start to last year, which resulted in the devastating loss of an estimated 600,000 cattle to flooding, the improved seasonal conditions brought by the same rain meant exporters were able to draw a ready supply of quality feeder and slaughter cattle from northern Queensland during the year.

By contrast all districts of the Northern Territory continue to experience below-average to extremely low pasture growth last year after failed wet seasons, as documented in the latest NT DPI pastoral update:

Source: NT DPI December 2019 Pastoral outlook

It is also interesting to note that the record volume of 364,046 cattle in a calendar year from Townsville could perhaps have been higher still had several shipments scheduled to leave the port early last year not been diverted to other ports due to disruptions caused by the severe floods of late January/early February.

In the first six months of 2019 cattle exports from Darwin totalled 190,829, while Townsville’s slow start as wet weather disrupted cattle movements saw its first half exports limited to 130,148 head.

However the NQ port finished 2019 with a wet sail, exporting 233,898 cattle in last six months of the year, compared to Darwin’s 192,371 (cattle and buffalo) for the same period.

The past year has also seen significant growth in live cattle exports from Central Queensland via Port Alma near Rockhampton.

Port Alma was formally approved as a live export port in 2018 and handled one shipment of 2199 head to China in December of that year, before exports grew significantly to 45,835 cattle in 2019.

In total Australia exported 1.298 million cattle from all ports last year, which was up from 1.126 million in 2018.

Exports to key markets included: Indonesia 676,433 head (up from 599,447 in 2018); Vietnam 266,795 (up from 203,244); China 158,126 (up from 136,227); Israel 78,116 (up from 60,804) and Russia 36,839 (down from 42,397)

Export volumes for most ports grew accordingly as the list of Australia’s 10 largest cattle export ports in 2019 shows (brackets denote 2018 volumes)

  1. Darwin  373,836  (416,942)
  2. Townsville 364,046  (257,751)
  3. Portland  170,506  (140,521)
  4. Fremantle 155,003  (145,557)
  5. Broome 110,987 (85,317)
  6. Port Alma  45,835  (2199)
  7. Brisbane  14,710  (12,716)
  8. Wyndham 13,795  (15,114)
  9. Geraldton 12,219  (14,525)
  10. Port Hedland  6,447  (2,714)

Source: Department of Agriculture


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