As live export activity gradually rebuilds across the north, there are growing signs that cattle suitable for Indonesia are becoming harder to find.
A key concern for northern producers and exporters when the Federal Government banned exports to Indonesia was that cattle would outgrow the market's 350kg maximum weight limit before the suspension was lifted.
A better than average season across Northern Australia this year only served to compound those concerns.
With exports to Indonesia now slowly rebuilding, reports are emerging that suitable cattle for the market are proving more difficult to source.
In an interview with ABC Radio last week, Broome, WA, livestock agent Andrew Stewart said many cattle in the Kimberley were now over the 350kg weight limit.
The supply shortfall had been compounded by the sale of large numbers of Kimberley cattle to Indonesia late last year and earlier this year, he said. Producers had also sold young cattle that would have otherwise been suitable for Indonesia to Egypt and Bahrain during the ban.
Another livestock agent in North Queensland told Beef Central this week that the presence of a live export boat out of Townsville was unusual at this time a year and a sign that exporters were having to cast their net wider than normal to find cattle suitable for Indonesia.
Wellard Rural Exports is scheduled to load 7000 cattle on the MV Ocean Shearer in Townsville from September 7-9, followed by another 8000 cattle in Darwin. When combined with a consignment from another exporter, the vessel will contain 24,000 cattle when it departs for Indonesia.
Wellard Rural Exports managing director Steve Meerwald said numbers in the Kimberley were in short supply, which he attributed to a combination of factors – cattle exceeding the 350kg limit due to age and a good season; recent Wellard shipments to Egypt and Bahrain, some cattle having been sent south during the suspension, and pastoralists not mustering due to the uncertainty created by the suspension and slow resumption.
However Mr Meerwald believed there were still reasonable, "but not huge", numbers available for Indonesia in other areas.
He said the presence of a boat in Townsville at this time of year was not unprecedented.
Wellard loaded 18,000 out of Townsville and Broome on September 14 last year and also departed a boat from the port in June last year, he said.
“There is no doubt that cattle numbers aren’t huge so we are operating right across the top end, but it’s not uncommon for Wellard to ship out of Townsville in the winter and spring,” he said.
One factor that is slightly unusual about this particular shipment is the larger than normal differential between quoted prices for steers and heifers.
Beef Central understands the rates offered to secure cattle for the Townsville shipment were $1.75 for steers and $1.50 for heifers – a 25c differential compared to the more usual 15c differential.
Mr Meerwald said the company would not comment publicly on pricing, but added that there was strong demand from Indonesia for steers following the two month ban.
* Meanwhile Bill Farmer was scheduled to provide his final report to the Federal Government yesterday after conducting a review of Australia's live export trade since June. The report will be now examined by the Government, with Agriculture minister Joe Ludwig expected to release the key findings in the near future.