Australia’s largest live cattle exporter remains confident of filling at least two more ships to Indonesia before the northern trade winds down for the year.
Wellard Rural Exports loaded a ship out of Darwin earlier this week and plans to ship another 27,000 cattle in two vessels before the season ends.
When that happens will depend largely on the onset of the annual wet season, which is tipped to occur earlier than normal this year due to a recently reformed moisture-bearing La Nina weather pattern.
Dwindling supplies of feeder cattle below the 350kg weight range for Indonesia are also forcing export buyers to scour the land far and wide to find eligible stock.
The competition for remaining numbers has forced prices to high levels, with steers now typically commanding $2.10/kg, a significant rise from the $1.70/kg level at which prices opened when exports resumed in August.
There are also anecdotal reports of exporters paying as much as $2.20/kg for steers to secure required numbers.
Wellard Rural Exports chief executive officer Fred Troncone said that while eligible cattle were proving hard to find, the company had already secured a large number of cattle it required for its next two shipments and was confident of sourcing the remaining numbers.
“The cattle are there, I’m not suggesting they are there in large quantities, but they are there,” Mr Troncone said.
“It is taking quite a bit of work, and obviously we are having to pay more than we were paying last year, so the price increase is very evident at the moment.”
To make up final numbers Wellard Rural Exports will draw on cattle from its floodplain properties in the Northern Territory.
Mustering is expected to begin in the next few weeks to move cattle off the plains and into the company’s export depot before the wet season commences.
In previous years the company has mustered into December and even early January, however it will muster earlier this year in anticipation of an earlier expected commencement of the summer rainfall season.
One of the primary concerns among exporters meeting at the Australian Live Export Council annual general meeting in Adelaide last week was whether enough abattoirs were now certified in Indonesia to process the quantity of cattle currently being sent to the market.
In Wellard’s own case, about half of its clients were now fully certified, while the company was working with others to help them to achieve sustainable levels of compliance.
While many Indonesian supply chains were still yet to receive approval, discussions among exporters suggested that most felt there were now enough certified abattoirs operating in Indonesia to handle existing supplies without causing a bottleneck.
The Government has currently received notices of intention to export 127,000 cattle to Indonesia, Paul Morris of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry told exporters at last Thursday's conference.