Lift in confidence, herd size evident in industry’s trail-blazing Beef Producer Intentions Survey

Beef Central, 25/03/2024

Droughtmaster steers bullocks oats sorghum northern forage

WHILE the variances are modest, a comprehensive national beef producer survey released today suggests the Australian beef herd is growing moderately this year – not declining, as suggested in Meat & Livestock Australia’s recent 2024 Industry Projections report.

The first ever Beef Producer Intentions Survey (BPIS), launched by Meat & Livestock Australia involved mostly online interviews, supported by a small number of telephone interviews.

In what was considered a very strong response, 3767 grassfed beef producers from across the nation participated in the inaugural annual survey back in November (13-18).

The survey was instituted to support the industry with reliable data because of the reduction in the scope of agricultural surveys being conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Click here to read more about the purpose and construct behind the BPIS.

There are number of new design elements and so some caution should be exercised when comparing the new survey results with previously released data, MLA warned.

The 2023 report includes coverage of different measurement areas, including:

  • Producer sentiment
  • Herd size and profiles
  • Breeding diagnostics
  • Producer intentions
  • Sales to date and forecast

Two main production systems were used as a framework to collect the data from producers. A set of questions for ‘southern producers’ and for ‘northern producers’ were developed. While there is significant crossover in questions between the two, there are specific nuances which accommodated the clear differences that exist.

Herd size

The survey estimated total adult beef cattle (excluding grainfed cattle) herd size for 2023 at 24.215 million head, expected to rise to 24.442m for 2024 – an increase of 227,410 head or 1pc.

This figure is a little more optimistic than MLA’s earlier 2024 Projections forecast, which had the national beef herd falling by 1pc to 28.61m* (*includes dairy and grainfed) this year. The decline in Projections was based on an expectation of some herd contraction in southern states, versus modest growth in the north.

MLA’s market information manager, Stephen Bignell, said it was important to note that since the survey was conducted in November, there had been an improvement in seasonal and market conditions.

“Towards the end of last year, much of the country experienced a return to better weather conditions following a volatile 2023,” Mr Bignell said.

“As conditions have improved, confidence has returned, and we are seeing a more optimistic outlook for 2024 from beef producers.”

“The BPIS was developed to get a clearer picture into the state of the industry through the year, and these surveys will be run several times across each year. The vital information provided by producers will help aid industry in research and development and assists MLA to refine and improve the accuracy of its market reporting information,” Mr Bignell said.

Producer sentiment

The survey has indicated there is a sentiment of positivity among some grassfed producers about the future of the Australian beef industry over the next 12 months.

Thirty eight percent said they were optimistic about the beef industry over the next year, while 26pc indicated a negative sentiment about the industry.

The BPIS found northern producers are more optimistic about the current year than southern producers. There are also variations across the country with the survey showing that Queensland producers are more positive than producers in other states, while producers in WA held a more negative outlook.

The survey indicated that WA producers forecast a 7pc decrease in their herd size, while Queensland producers were expecting a 4pc increase.

At a national level there is an overall intention to decrease their on-farm grassfed adult beef cattle herd in the next 12 months. Specifically, 38pc indicated they would increase their herd size; 15pc indicated herds would remain unchanged; and 47pc indicated they would decrease their herd size.

Mr Bignell said the reasons to increase or decrease stock were varied and demonstrated the diversity of conditions the Australian beef industry operated within.

For those who indicated that they would like to increase their cattle herd, 44pc said it was due to them wanting to expand their operations.

Almost one third of respondents said they expected cattle prices to increase, and a similar amount expected favourable conditions as key reasons to increasing their herd. These reasons were equally favoured among both northern and southern producers.

Producers who said they would decrease the amount of cattle on-farm did so due to low rainfall (66pc) and the volatility around cattle prices (55pc). The impact by weather was more dramatic in northern systems with 75pc indicating this as the key reason for decreasing numbers.

While poor weather outcomes were the major reason for intentions to decrease herds in southern systems (62pc), they were more concerned about price volatility (58pc) compared to their northern-based colleagues (46pc).

Breeding herd composition

The survey also drilled into topics like breeding herd genetic composition and preferred selling method.

While Beef Central will drill more deeply into both in a later article, here’s a quick snapshot by region:

Southern breeding herds:

Angus represented the dominant breed used in breeding females, accounting for between 60pc (South Australia), and highs of 82pc (Tasmania) and 72pc (Victoria).

There was a trend towards greater use of Angus, as herd size (divided by MLA transaction levy band) increased. Nationally, 76pc of southern beef herds in the highest (category 11) levy band ran Angus breeders.

Hereford was the next largest among southern herds, accounting for between 3pc (WA) and 6pc (Tasmania) to 11pc (NSW), 13pc (Vic) and 22pc (SA).

Northern breeding herds:

As expected, Brahman genetics dominated northern breeder herds, accounting for 39pc in Queensland and 32pc in Western Australia (no data was collected for the NT).

Next largest was Droughtmaster (14pc in Qld, 21pc in WA), Santa Gertrudis (6pc in Qld, 27pc in WA) and Ultrablack/Brangus (10pc and 4pc).

Wagyu breeders were significant in both southern Qld (9pc) and Northern Qld (10pc)

Sales channels

Producers expect that most of their cattle will be sold through saleyard auctions (65pc).

Smaller producers are more likely to use just a single sales channel with larger producers using more than one sales channel. For the larger producers, sales direct to feedlots and processors are used more often than other producer cohorts.

MLA acknowledged that the estimates from the inaugural BPIS are just one of the inputs into the well-established forecasting models developed and supported by the industry service delivery company.

“The models provide a more comprehensive approach to forecasting and provide important measures for industry. Results from the current BPIS survey should be considered in this context,” it suggested.


Click here to access the Beef Producer Intentions Survey report





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