Live Export

May cattle export figures released, but final data still subject to change (+ POLL)

James Nason, 07/06/2023

Australia exported an estimated 60,000 cattle in May, about 34 percent below the five-year-average for the month, with 60 percent of total exports destined for Indonesia.

A livestock ship loading in Darwin

Official data released this week from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) puts total cattle exports for the month at 49,998 head.

However, DAFF”s figures appear to under-report export numbers from Darwin by about 10,000 head compared to final numbers for the month reported by the Port of Darwin, suggesting overall cattle exports in May were closer to 60,000 head in total.

DAFF’s figures report that 13,477 head were exported from Darwin in May.

In contrast, Darwin Port figures released to the trade this week report that 23,943 livestock (mostly cattle) were exported from Darwin in May.

Of that number, about 10,000 head were exported from Darwin in the final week of May, which is likely to explain why those numbers were not included in DAFF’s figures released this week.

It follows a trend in recent months in which initial national monthly export figures released by DAFF include figures from the major port of Darwin which are substantially lower than numbers reported by DAFF for Darwin in the same month in later monthly editions, without explicit notice to the changes in the subsequent release of the next month’s export data.

In February and April, Darwin export numbers reported by DAFF were initially reported at 10,431 head and 13,945 head below the final figures DAFF now reports for those months.

The DAFF figures are reported by media as accepted offiicial numbers for the month. The large discrepancies between the numbers initially reported and the numbers later confirmed for the month can lead distorted narratives around the actual level of trade occurring.

Asked to clarify why the substantial differences were appearing between initial numbers reported for Darwin and later numbers subsequently reported for the same month in later reports, a DAFF spokesperson put it down to the challenges of providing timely reporting versus availability of official data.

“To ensure accurate reporting, the department allows a period of time after the end of the month for final documents and data to be uploaded before reports are published,” the spokesperson said in a written response.

“Vessels that leave towards the end of the month and/or have complex reporting requirements (e.g. multiple exporters, multiple species, multiple classes, multiple destinations) may not have final documents and data uploaded within the reporting window.

“As it is not always possible to delay national reporting for these voyages, the data on the department’s website is updated once the missing data is available.

“The department’s Live Animal Exports Statistics for All Livestock Exports webpage ( also states: “Figures are subject to change as more data becomes available”.”

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NT Livestock Exporters Association CEO Tom Dawkins said DAFF had a clear obligation to publish accurate trade volumes.

“Incomplete data is inaccurate data and should not be published by the Commonwealth. We’ve noticed monthly export figures are being put online by DAFF, perhaps too hastily, which are missing several consignments or overlooking entire markets and important categories, such as live buffalo exports. By the time the figures are quietly updated and corrected,

“It’s often too late because internal industry reports and public commentaries which assume DAFF gets these things right the first time have already been released. Timely reporting is wonderful, but not if the figures are half-baked and don’t paint an accurate picture of how the live trade is actually performing.”

In the meantime DAFF’s latest figures for May reported this week show that exports to Vietnam increased slightly month-on-month from 9580 head in April to 10,511 head in May.

Shipments from Townsville returned to close to five-year average levels for May with 16,354 cattle exported for the month.

Exports from Townsville included 10,511 cattle to Vietnam, and 5843 to Indonesia.

Exports of dairy and breeding cattle to China totalled 6981. Of that number, 5582 were exported from Portland, and 1399 from Fremantle.

The northern WA port of Broome also saw the first export activity of the 2023 calendar year get underway with 8096 cattle shipped in May to Indonesia (6400 head) and Philippines (1696), while 2438 feeder cattle were also exported from Wyndham to Indonesia during the month.


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