MLA market and industry news 9 May 2013

Beef Central, 09/05/2013


Meat & Livestock Australia publishes a range of market intelligence updates each week relating to developments in domestic and export demand, red meat marketing initiatives and research and development programs. Below is a summary of recent MLA-generated articles and headlines with relevance to the beef and cattle sector. All items are authored by MLA staff, with no input from Beef Central.

  • Cattle market alert
  • Drought comes to an end in most of NZ
  • China demand more Aussie beef
  • Is ‘Abenomics reviving Japanese economy?
  • Remote-controlled  livestock management
  • Beating a prickly customer



Cattle market alert

8 May

Consignments lift as dry conditions continue

Total national cattle throughput so far this week has increased 17pc, with most states yarding higher numbers due to the continual dry weather conditions. Consignments in Queensland dropped 12pc from last week, with Roma store 10pc lower, while Warwick increased its yarding by 16pc with young cattle in the largest numbers. Cattle supply in NSW rose by a third week-on-week, with all sales across the state growing in numbers. Throughput at CTLX increased 35pc, while Gunnedah saleyards improved 65pc. Numbers across Victoria were 78pc higher on last week, with both Pakenham and Wodonga numbers more than doubling, while Shepparton yarded 43pc more cattle. Consignments across SA were 31pc lower, while WA’s Muchea reported a 14pc increase. Numbers at Killafaddy remained unchanged on last week.

Plain quality

Overall quality across the majority of sales continues to be of plain to average condition, with the usual buyers competing in a relatively cheaper market. Prime cattle were again scarce at Goulburn although there were some well-finished vealers available, while Pakenham and Shepparton reported plain conditioned cattle dominating the selling pens.

Prices fall

At the close of Tuesday’s markets the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator was 12.5c lower week-on-week, to settle on 291.75?/kg. Trade steers remained unchanged on 173?, while medium steers were 7? lower on 155?/kg. Feeder steers declined 8?, to average 155?, while heavy steers decreased 9?, to make 165?/kg. Medium cows lifted 1?, making 103?/kg.



Drought comes to an end in most of NZ

08 May

New Zealand’s worst drought in 30 years has come to an end, as significant rainfall in late April brought relief to the heavily drought-stricken North Island (Federated Farmers of NZ).

Widespread rainfall in coastal regions of the South Island and large falls recorded in much of the North Island, including flooding in parts of Auckland and Wellington in late April, have been in stark contrast to reports throughout most of summer and autumn, as many regions of NZ were hit heavily by drought. Parts of the upper South Island recorded more than double the average rainfall for April, while the Bay of Plenty through to large areas of Northland as well as Wellington, coastal Canterbury and Southland received well above average rainfall for the month (NIWA).

This being the case, it may seem hard to believe that there are still plenty of areas on both the North and South Island that received well below average rainfall in April, and are still considered very much in drought. These include widespread areas of central Otago and southern Canterbury, while central Hawke’s Bay and isolated areas of Gisborne on the North Island are considered to be the worst affected.

Dairy farmers in the worst affected areas are drying herds off or cutting back to once-a-day milking and culling excess cows in an attempt to preserve herds for the next milking season. So far the dairy industry is estimated to have lost $1.4 billion in reduced production and extra feeding costs, and is looking at a 5–10pc reduction in supply for the year as a whole, better than the previously projected 20pc drop. This is somewhat reflected in the global dairy auction, which has jumped 20pc over the last few months, keeping a number of dairy businesses afloat.

Sheep and beef producers have also been hit hard, and will be feeling the effects of the drought for the next few years, as mass culling of stock combined with heavily reduced prices have had a devastating effect on farm incomes and the cattle and sheep populations.

Soil moisture remains a concern for many producers, as significant deficits were recorded in the regions that received the least rain, while the heavy rain in other areas had less impact than expected, as much of the water ended up in dams and streams as runoff. NIWA suggest that soil moisture throughout the drought period was so low that it will take persistent follow-up rain over the next couple of weeks to build it up again.

Growing conditions over most of NZ are now much better than they have been recently, and producers will be looking for warm conditions and follow up showers to maximise pasture growth before winter sets in.



China demand more Aussie beef

07 May

Australian beef and veal exports to China during April reached 11,654t – placing it ahead of Korea for the third consecutive month (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry). Total volumes during the first four months of 2013 has already exceeded the total of 2012 (32,906t) at 40,278t.

Grassfed beef shipments during April reached record levels, at 10,821t, assisted by strong demand for chilled grassfed beef, at 1347t – also the highest monthly volumes on record. Grainfed beef exports also remained high, at 833t, up from only 52t in April 2012.

Cuts in the highest demand during April included brisket (2282t – record volumes), shin/shank (2067t) and silverside/outside (1380t), with carcase exports also reaching new heights, at 926t.

Chinese red meat retail prices reportedly eased slightly during March. Boneless beef and bone-in sheepmeat retail prices were down 1pc each on last month, at RMB 57.96/kg (A$8.95) and RMB 61.13/kg (A$9.45), respectively (Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China). Chicken carcase prices during March also fell 3pc on last month, to RMB 18.24/kg (A$2.80), while boneless pork prices dropped 9pc, at RMB 24.09/kg (A$3.70).



Is ‘Abenomics reviving Japanese economy?

07 May

Japanese economists have projected a 2.8pc growth in Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter 2013 on the back of upbeat March statistics. While some economic commentators positively imply that ‘Abenomics’ – the audacious fiscal policies under Prime Minister Abe’s leadership – have driven the recovery so far, others are sceptical about the mid to long term growth and remain concerned with the impact of the weak yen for Japanese consumers.

Encouraging economic updates in March include a 5.2pc year-on-year rise of the average household spending, lower unemployment (down 0.2pc from February to 1.4pc), and the prospect of positive net exports during the March quarter (first time since the March quarter in 2012, if materialised).

Yet, the weakened yen – down 25pc against the A$ and 23pc against the US dollar since October 2012 – has certainly increased the cost of imported food and other basic materials for consumers, squeezing returns for businesses. The government has recently stated that it would release a new set of growth strategies and key economic policies in June, taking into consideration the pressure that consumers are feeling at present.



Remote-controlled livestock management

03 May

While it might not mean you can run the farm from the beach, cattle producers can look forward to cutting costs, saving time and sleeping a little easier by adopting remote technologies tested in a northern Queensland trial.

A producer demonstration site (PDS) on a north west Queensland property, funded by MLA, is demonstrating the gains and cost savings of walk-over-weighing (WOW) and remote-sensing technologies. The PDS is run in conjunction with a Beef Challenge near Richmond.

PDS Coordinator and FutureBeef Extension Officer in Cloncurry, Rebecca Gunther, from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, said the project, while not completed until December 2014, had already led to the remote management systems that are now commercially available being refined and further developed.

Precision testing

The Remote Livestock Management System (RLMS) being trialled by the PDS was developed by Alice Springs-based company, Precision Pastoral. Trials have found the system can save cattle producers up to $68 a head annually.

RLMS combines hardware and software to remotely identify, weigh and draft individual animals and then transmits data via a solar powered unit to a central location.

Each time the cattle move through a race to reach a water point, they walk over a weigh bridge, pass an NLIS scanner and go through programmable auto drafting gates.

“The producers could see a plateau in liveweight gain in response to changes in pasture quality, and establish the optimum time to begin feeding dry season lick,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca said that in the first year the weights didn’t plateau until about six weeks after the neighbouring Flinders Shire Beef Challenge group, which had begun feeding lick based on the traditional visual appraisal.

That six-week delay represented a significant saving (figures vary due to the wide variety of supplement methods utilised by producers) in supplement costs, across 1,000 head.

WOW also allows producers to pinpoint other key management triggers, such as marketing and turn off.

“If your agent rings wanting a certain class of steer, or the meatworks price grid is offering a premium price for particular weight range, you can look at the WOW data and know quickly whether you have cattle in that range,” Rebecca said.

There are limitations in having just the WOW bridge; the cattle still need to be drafted according to specifications. So, the PDS is now trialling an auto-drafter, also supplied by Precision Pastoral, that can categorise animals of different weights.

“If you want everything over 500kg, for example, you can program the auto-drafter. There is minimal stress to the animals, less bruising and a lot less labour,” Rebecca said.

“The initial financial outlay will be paid off over time because you don’t need that extra labour to muster and you save time not having to drive around the paddock visually appraising the cattle.”

Keeping an eye on it

Remote monitoring cameras were installed to visually monitor the water trough levels at the PDS. The cameras used in the PDS trial were provided by William and Hollie Harrington from Harrington Systems Electronics. The couple design and build the uSee remote monitoring cameras on the family cattle station, Olga Downs, north of Richmond.

The camera takes photos five times a day and on demand, and they can be accessed online.

Sending images via the Next G or satellite telephone system, the cameras are used by producers to watch watering points, especially in hot weather, monitor livestock and to check irrigation channels.

At a cost of $1300 a camera, the technology is undergoing continual improvement and the next step will be two megapixel-sized images from the cameras which will allow users to zoom in on the ear tag to identify the animal.

“They are one of the best labour-saving gadgets I’ve seen,” Rebecca said.

“You don’t have to drive to the paddock every day to check the water troughs or lay awake at night wondering if the 2,000 weaners out the back have any water.”

“By installing cameras at water points, you could reduce the frequency of bore runs from perhaps two or three times a week to only once a week. The savings in diesel and labour costs will cover the camera costs before the end of the dry season.”



Beating a prickly customer

03 May

Prickly acacia is one of Australia’s worst weeds, costing $20 million a year in lost production and control, and invading 6.6 million hectares of Queensland grasslands alone.

A 25–30pc canopy cover of prickly acacia halves pasture production; a 50pc canopy cover prevents almost any pasture growth. Despite the current dry, a succession of above-average wet seasons has led to an explosion in prickly acacia seedlings.

The weed’s National Control Coordinator Nathan March is advising landholders to ensure that ground gained from the weed in previous years is maintained.

“Cattle are the main spreaders of the seed, so producers need to restrict stock access to mature seed pods and to quarantine stock that have eaten the pods,” Nathan said.

“Prickly acacia seed can take up to six days to pass through an animal so using clean holding paddocks prior to sale, or after purchase, is a good tactic.”

Landholders should also try to eliminate prickly acacia along bore drains, creeks and dams as trees in these locations produce big quantities of seed every year. Prevention is easier than cure, so Nathan advises cleaning up the least-infested paddocks or high seed-producing trees first.

Once prickly acacia is established, there are a number of recommended chemical and mechanical control techniques, which are used either alone or in combination.

“Basal bark spraying with herbicides such as Starane Advanced is recommended for stems up to 10cm in diameter, but only when the tree is actively growing,” Nathan said.

“The cut stump method can be used at any time of year, but herbicide must be applied within 15 seconds of cutting.

“Alternatively, soil-applied herbicides such as Graslan and Velpar L can be used to reduce time and labour effort.”

Pushing and double chain pulling is useful for those with medium- or high-density infestations but, again, timing is crucial.

New weapons on the cards

A multi-pronged attack on prickly acacia could see new on-farm control measures available within two years.

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers have established field trials using native fungi to develop a bioherbicide that will induce dieback in prickly acacia, while the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Queensland is searching India for insects that feed on the plant.

UQ plant pathologist Associate Professor Vic Galea said MLA funding had enabled the move from preliminary investigation to large-scale field trials in just two years.

He said it took six years to reach the same point in his parkinsonia research, with the bioherbicide Di-Bak Parkinsonia due for commercial release in 2014.

It is hoped a prickly acacia bioherbicide will be commercially available by late 2015 or early 2016.

“In 2010, a two-year MLA-funded project conducted preliminary investigations of natural prickly acacia dieback,” Vic said.

“We were able to isolate more than 150 fungal strains from various locations across north Queensland and, after laboratory screening and glasshouse tests, identified several isolates that produced dieback symptoms in young plants.”

Tips for managing prickly acacia

  • Map and prioritise prickly acacia areas on your property.
  • Eliminate prickly acacia along bore drains, creeks and dams.
  • Clean up least-infested paddocks and/or high seed-producing trees first.
  • Incorporate strategic fencing to contain prickly acacia.
  • Quarantine sheep and cattle for at least six days when moving from infested paddocks to clean areas.
  • Progressively reduce larger infestations working on a paddock-by-paddock basis.
  • Maintain competitive pastures.





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