Despite facing a tough trading environment Australia’s northern cattle export trade is still moving cattle to Indonesia, albeit in reduced numbers.
The trade is facing well-documented challenges at home and abroad, from the record prices required to buy export cattle, due to limited numbers and strong demand for the same cattle from southern Australia, to the pressure Indonesian and Vietnamese feedlots are facing to remain viable (see more in Ross Ainsworth’s SE Asian report and his Weekly Grill conversation with Kerry Lonergan last Friday).
Despite those challenges export activity continues, with two livestock carriers scheduled to load in Darwin this week with cattle for the forthcoming Indonesian Ramadan/Lebaran period, while there are also expectations that two ships will load in Townsville for Indonesia and Brunei in coming weeks.
Trade to Vietnam continues to languish. A single 2129 head consignment of slaughter bulls from Townsville in January represents the only export activity to have occurred to Australia’s second largest market so far this year, and there are no clear indications yet as to when the next shipment will occur.
Where shipping activity is occuring, it is happening at very low volumes compared to normal.
Prices being paid for cattle to fill the limited number of export vessels that are currently operating to Indonesia can vary dramatically depending on the type of cattle being quoted from steers and heifers to cows to bulls, and according to whether a particular line is needed to finalise a shipment within average weight limits, which can result in significant price spikes for one-off lines.
Love me, tender
As a guide to where prices for the small number of high-grade Brahman feeder export steers that are still available have climbed, a recent tender of 4000 head overseen by Scott Riggs from Top End Livestock in Katherine was completed at a price of $5.53 cents a kilogram liveweight.
The tender for one of the few remaining large lines of premium export steers attracted bids from eight exporters.
Nutrien updated its northern price indicators on Friday, which reflects the range of prices being paid for different categories currently making up export shipments from the north:
Qld rates on par
In Queensland, Tom Kennedy from Elders Townsville said top lines of 400kg feeder steers in Townsville suitable for live export are currently selling for around $5.20/kg to lot feeders further south.
When added to approximately 30c/kg in sea freight from Townsville to Darwin, that rate is on par with a level of $5.50c/kg for feeder steers ex Darwin.
Cows for export are being quoted at $3.80/kg liveweight in Townsville.
Shipments to a handful of smaller markets have increased in the past year as exports to Indonesia and Vietnam have fallen. Volumes to the two major markets in 2021 were down by 23pc and 25pc compared to five-year-average volumes to both markets (to 409,040 and 166,231 respectively).
At the same time exports to the Philippines in 2021 increased to 20,679 head, 37pc above the five-year-average to that market, while exports to Malaysia were 7pc higher at 21,848 head and shipments to Brunei were 67pc higher at 13,005.
While tough operating conditions have slowed trade activity, Mr Kennedy said exporters would were resilient operators and he expected they would continue to operate through the difficult times.
“Live export has some pretty energetic people who will keep working to keep the trade continuing,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I can’t see the trade closing, it might slow down, but it is not going to go away.”
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