Processing

Weekly kill: Big lift in processors’ opening gambit cattle offers for 2024

Jon Condon, 09/01/2024

RAIN is the big driving factor in a sharp lift in values in Eastern Australian beef processor direct consignment offers this week, as the industry returns to work after the holiday break.

Many over the hooks offers have lifted 25-60c/kg since closing offers seen in 2023, as the impact of a surprisingly wet December-January take effect.

It should be noted, however, that the difference between this week’s offers and December rates may be somewhat distorted, because a number or large processors withdrew their grids before mid-December, having already booked sufficient cattle for the final couple of weeks. It means that there may be a three to four-week lag in any comparison with today’s rates.

Here’s a quick summary of the money available for direct consignment slaughter cattle from competitive processors on week one, 2024:

  • In the nation’s biggest concentration of processing operations around Southern Queensland, heavy slaughter cows were quoted anywhere from 440c/kg to 460c/kg this morning, and 475-520c/kg for generic grass four-tooth heavy ox. In one company’s case, that represented a rise of 25-40c/kg on December quotes, and for another, as much as 50-70c/kg. Certified grassfed MSA yearling was quoted by one company at 500c/kg.
  • Central Queensland plants, mostly starting their season next Monday are typically 10c/kg behind those rates, with North Queensland another 10c behind
  • In southern states, processors in southern NSW and eastern South Australia have offers of 465c/kg on YP four-tooth heavy steer and 410c on heavy cows. Both are up 20c/kg on rates seen late last year. Grainfed cattle are helping over-ride delivery problems this week caused by flooding and heavy rain in parts of Victoria.
  • Feeder prices have not yet responded in the same manner, with quotes this morning for heavy flatback feeder steers +400kg ex Downs around 325-335c/kg liveweight – little changed from rates seen late last year. Black steers may have lifted a little more.

Few, if any processors appear to have booked significant slaughter cattle with a price back in December for January kills, meaning many are now having to start from a blank sheet. One large Queensland shed with a capacity for 1400 a day has not bought a beast yet for its 2024 season, with a season opening due in 12 days.

Many northern export plants shut for two or three weeks from pre-Christmas, with some starting work this week, and others next week or the week after.

“There’s a lot of green grass around now, and nobody’s in a real hurry (producers) to sell cattle,” one large export processor livestock manager told Beef Central this morning.

“There’s no real numbers coming forward yet, because producers have either had some rain and want to wait, or are still sitting on the beach,” he said.

“Most bookings are only bits and pieces at this stage.”

“People might be happy to let a few fat cows go that have missed a calf, but bullocks will be hard to find in the immediate few weeks ahead, as owners try to add a bit of extra weight,” the buyer said.

“Leaving them in the paddock another four to six weeks could easily add another 40kg liveweight. The risk in that is, everybody hits the market over the same few weeks leading up to Easter, forcing prices lower due to over-supply.”

Given that herd rebuilding was now more or less complete, there may be more cull heifers heading to slaughter this year than has been seen since 2019.

Saleyards trends

New season physical sales held today and yesterday have followed a similar trend, with many slaughter types rising 10-20c/kg compared with December rates. Good cows at Warwick sale this morning made 240c/kg liveweight, with bullocks 300-305c.

Gunnedah numbers were severely depleted by rain at this morning’s opening 2024 sale, with only 311 head on offer. Heavy cows averaged 454c/kg dressed equivalent.

Wodonga this morning yarded 800, with export categories experiencing gains from 40-70c/kg LW (on low rates pre-Christmas). Cows were 50-70c LW better, were common, with heavy cows fetching 230-250c/kg.

While the welcome rain during December and early January has been widespread, there are certainly beef-producing regions where the season to this point is only ‘average, at best.’ Some regions around Wandoan in southern QLD had only 50-60mm of rain over December, and country in Queensland’s southeast around Cecil Plains has had rain enough only for some green pick.

Labour impact?

So is labour access likely to be as big an issue this January, as it was this time last year? Beef Central asked processor contacts this morning.

“It’s better positioned than what it was a year ago, but still not back to where it needs to be,” was the common response from several operators.

For this reason, 130,000 head a week may be the natural limit for national weekly slaughter numbers for the first three or four months of the year, one processor suggested. A second shift at Dinmore might lift that a little, should JBS achieve it.

Dinmore aims to start its 2024 season with a slaughter shift on Friday this week, followed by first boning shift on Monday.

Realistically, the industry needed to be able to process around 145,000 a week to balance supply and demand this year, one contact said.

MLA’s most recent industry projections update had the national beef herd at 28.7 million head at the end of 2023, its highest level since 2014, before pushing out to 29 million by the end of this year.

  • MLA’s 2024 Industry Projections are due for release around early February.

 

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Comments

  1. Paul Franks, 09/01/2024

    They still have a way to go before they resemble fair prices for producers considering the 15-20% increase in input costs over the past few years.

    To put things into perspective CQ processors were starting to briefly offer $5/kg for 4 tooth steers in late 2015 to 2016. By 2018, over $5/kg offers were the norm and there was a drought raging.

    Offers over $6 a kg for four tooth Jap Ox should be the norm in today’s world.

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