Meat and Livestock Australia is forecasting some growth to occur in live export markets in coming years, but concedes the industry’s outlook remains heavily dependent on Indonesian quota developments.
The official projection is for exports to rise from a forecast low-point of 570,000 head this year to 700,000 head by 2016.
Indonesia is not so much the elephant in the room as the whale in the fishbowl when it comes to Australia’s live cattle export industry, accounting for more than half of Australia’s total export sales and a dominant percentage of northern exports.
However, with the viability of the northern cattle industry under serious threat following significant quota cutbacks by Indonesia, Australian exporters are working hard to find alternative markets for bos Indicus type cattle in particular.
Egypt is showing the most promise, particularly after a new ‘closed loop’ feedlot and abattoir facility officially came online this month. With a second port-based facility now approved to take Australian livestock, orders for northern cattle into Egypt are expected to grow.
A shipment of 17,000 cattle left Western Australia for the market late last month while another shipment containing similar numbers was due to depart for the new closed-loop system, the first consignment from Australia to the facility, this week.
MLA expects exports to the Philippines to grow from 21,000 head last year to 25,000 head this year.
Exports from southern Australia have been solid during May with shipments to China (25,346 head, up 32pc), Turkey (20,710 head, down 32pc), Russia (19,145, up 49pc) and Israel (16,853 head, down 10pc).
Total Australian cattle exports for January to May this year (ABS shipment data lags real time by six weeks) totalled 244,957 head, with 55 percent heading to Indonesia (133,467 head).
With no change to Indonesian import permits, Australian exports to the market are expected to total 283,000 head this year, 33pc below 2011 levels and 63pc below the 2009 peak of 773,000 head.
Fortunately the presence of favourable seasons has enabled many northern cattle that would otherwise have gone to Indonesia to be rediverted towards central and western Queensland for finishing for slaughter markets.
However, with climate models pointing to drier seasons and stocking levels on the rise, that option is unlikely to last indefinitely.
“It must also be noted that the number of cattle in Queensland, especially through western and central regions, has grown in the past two years, with producers becoming increasingly conscious of reaching their carrying capacity,” MLA’s official forecast states.
“Added to this is the risk of a drier season in 2013, which would increase turnoff rates and put pressure on prices.”