Signs of tightening supplies of live export cattle in North Queensland have been reflected in a 15c/kg increase in prices in the past fortnight.
It has been a huge year for shipments out of Townsville with a shipment last week taking the total number of cattle exported from the port in 2014 to more than 200,000 head.
Townsville’s previous annual record was 166,409 cattle, set in 2002, according to LiveCorp statistics.
Underpinning the record volumes has been a combination of resurgent orders for both feeder and slaughter-weight cattle from South East Asia and ongoing dry conditions and herd destocking in Northern Queensland.
The renewed strength of orders for both feeder and slaughter-ready cattle into SE Asia is also focusing more attention on feasibility work to export cattle from more ports that are closer to large cattle supply areas.
Port Alma near Rockhampton is just one of the ports where more live exports are proposed with Gladstone and Brisbane also in exporters’ sights. Both ports are already equipped to export cattle, with 4000 cattle shipped from Gladstone in 2011 and 2013, while between 10,000 and 20,000 high value Wagyu cattle are exported from Brisbane to Japan each year.
AgForce’s Northern Region office has also been proactively working to re-establish exports from both Weipa in Cape York and Mourilyan near Innisfail to enhance competition for producers in close proximity to both ports.
Exports from Weipa would give Cape York producers the opportunity to increase farm-gate returns by substantially reducing freight savings compared to Townsville or Karumba. The Cape region currently turns off about 33,000 cattle per year, but with a secure market outlet the high rainfall region has the potential for rapid herd growth.
Mourilyan Harbor near Innisfail is also well located to the Atherton Tablelands region which turns off around 28,000 cattle per year and the Carpentaria shire which turns off more than 70,000.
Again both ports are already equipped to handle live exports, with cattle last exported from Weipa in 2009 when 1700 head were shipped, and exports from Mourilyan occurring as recently as 2011, when 2388 cattle were shipped.
Beef Central understands that AgForce has been working with Government departments, private port stakeholders and exporters to advance the export plans. When contacted by Beef Central yesterday AgForce Northern Region Manager Paul Burke confirmed discussions were progressing but said it was too early to discuss the plan in further detail.
He said producers in catchment areas for both Weipa and Mourilyan were keen and ready to go with good numbers of cattle ready for exporters with smaller style boats.
15c rise in steer prices
Meanwhile a ring-around of export industry sources this week has highlighted a firming price trend in North Queensland based on the normal seasonal supply and demand cycle.
It is not unusual for prices to firm in August as exporters contract cattle for the final quarter and as the approaching prospect of spring rainfall influences producer hold or sell decisions.
A new export order released for Townsville this week offers 170c/kg for 380kg-650kg steers in good condition and 145c/kg for 370kg-500kg heifers.
Traditionally the price differential between steers and heifers for live export orders sits at around 15c/kg, but has been more extreme in recent months because of the strong ongoing demand from SE Asian buyers for steers. However the gap is expected to close again in coming months as steers become more difficult to source.
While there has been less shipping activity out of Darwin in recent weeks price price quotes for steers tend to vary within a range of $1.90-$2.00/kg.