Buffeted by a series of unexpected and often unique events, the 2020 slaughter cattle season largely draws to a close on Friday.
Many large export beef plants across eastern Australia draw a line under their 2020 operations with significant losses recorded on many slaughter cattle during the back half of the year.
A difficult year comes to a close with a number of serious unresolved challenges in Australia’s international beef markets. Forced adaptations to COVID have become the ‘new normal’ for citizens and supply chains alike, and the year ends with much uncertainty regarding Australia’s relationship with China.
November was another challenging month for Australian red meat exports, with tight supply of livestock, together with a disconnect between livestock prices and international meat market impacting exports. Last month exports of beef were 79,900 tonnes, down 2pc on October volumes but 23pc behind the same month last year, tracking in line with reduced levels of cattle slaughter.
Total beef exports for the 2020 year-to-November reached 954,000t, 14pc down on 2019 levels, and will likely only barely creep past the one million tonne level for the full calendar year.
The 2020 year has certainly highlighted the need for resilience, a quality strongly associated with our industry. Decades of hard work developing trusted production systems, opening markets and fostering competition for Australian red meat has left the industry with a good chance of withstanding shocks to both supply and demand. Australian red meat has earned the trust of customers and consumers globally and continues to occupy an enviable brand position in many markets. The rapidly emerging, protein hungry middle class in Asia will continue to propel demand.
On top of unpredictable market swings brought on by COVID’s impact on populations worldwide, currency movement is again eroding Australia’s international beef competitiveness, as the year draws to a close. This morning, the A$ was trading at US75.3c, up about US5c since the start of November, and US6.5c higher than this time last year. In fact the A$ has not traded at this week’s levels since June, 2018.
Grid prices easing as year closes
The past fortnight has seen export beef processors lower offers for direct consignment cattle, in an effort to better align the purchase price with international meat price trends
In Queensland, all large processors have dropped their grid offers since the start of December, in response to tough export meat trading conditions. While some have now virtually closed their books for placements for 2020, most grids are still active – some taking bookings for kills in early 2021.
Competitive Queensland processors this week have offers on heavy cows in a big spread anywhere from 560-590c/kg, a drop of 30-55c on price levels seen six weeks ago, when similar cows were making 615-620c.
Grassfed heavy ox offers in Queensland are now back to 630-660c/kg, having hit 680c during the recent highs in October-November.
In southern states, best offers this week are around 595c/kg on four-tooth ox and 540c/kg on heavy cows – representing a similar proportionate decline as those seen in Queensland.
The eastern states beef kill for the seven days ended Friday followed the trend that’s been evident all year – tight slaughter cattle supply after prolonged drought the previous year or two, with reduced female slaughter a feature.
Last week’s five-state kill reported by NLRS reached 112,229 head, down 2pc on the week before, and 32pc below the same week last year.
With a number of regional plants already closed for the season, Queensland’s kill declined 3pc last week to 52,793 head, down 37pc on this time last year, while NSW rose 1pc to 30,254 head, behind by 23pc year-on-year. Victoria dropped 5pc on the previous week to 21,330 head, South Australia eased 2pc to 4007 head, and Tasmania retracted 1pc to 3845 head for the week – down 32pc, 17pc and 23pc year-on-year, respectively
Physical sales early this week – mostly the last sales for each respective centre this year – have seen a predictable reduction in numbers.
At Gunnedah this morning, only 466 head were yarded – less than half of last week. Heavy grown steers to process sold to a slightly cheaper trend, under reduced competition. The well finished grown heifers were much cheaper. There was little competition for the few cows penned, with the market also showing a much cheaper trend.
Pakenham yarded 1162 head yesterday, with most grown steers and bullocks improved 10c with a couple of pens of heavy weights easing 10c/kg. Heavy grown heifers gained 30c/kg. Cows were mixed but generally firm while heavy bulls lifted 10c.
Numbers dried up at Toowoomba yesterday. Small numbers of grown steers were well down in price.
Most physical sales do not return until week commencing 11 January.