BOLD predictions are always risky, but we can’t help but ask the question this week: Is this the start of the long-anticipated cattle price adjustment?
Queensland slaughter grids have softened by anywhere from 10c/kg to 30c/kg over the past seven days, as it becomes clearly evident that finished cattle are becoming easier to source, after two years of starvation diet for processors.
The exception to that statement is obviously those areas in NSW and Victoria still heavily impacted by flood and wet weather, or slow to activate spring turnoff.
Drier conditions have delivered a spike in all cattle offerings, both store and slaughter types. Saleyards throughput was up 35 percent last week, with Roma store sale this morning having its biggest offering in months, at around 8500 head, while last week’s AuctionsPlus commercial cattle offering topped 24,890 head – the fourth largest offering in history.
As conditions dry-out, processors are also able to access paddock-bought cattle more easily – some of which were purchased six or eight weeks ago, but were delayed by weather and only now becoming accessible for slaughter.
One export abattoir in Central Queensland is now fully committed for cattle through to its Christmas closure, while another in the state’s south is taking bookings for December only.
Several others have either shifted to booking ‘kill spots only’ (no price attached), or are considering doing so – such is the current decline in the market.
Direct consignment quotes seen this morning for slaughter in late November in Queensland have heavy cows 680c/kg, down as much as 20-30c/kg in a couple of adjustments, and standard four-tooth Jap ox 730-740c/kg, back 20c/kg.
Both reflect the current improved cattle supply in more northern regions of the country. One Queensland processor said prices had to come back a considerable way yet, to fully reflect trading terms in international markets.
“I don’t expect the phone to stop ringing now, just because the market has come off. They (grass producers) have fat cattle in the paddock, and they have to go. Nobody wants to carry those cattle over to the new year, because who knows – there could be further weather delays. And producers are all aware that what is being offered now won’t be any worse, and probably better, than the market when the 2023 season opens in January.”
In southern regions still impacted by weather, cattle supply remains much tighter. One southern NSW plant will only kill three days this week. Grids are unchanged currently with best offers around 730c/kg on heavy cows and 830c/kg on four-tooth grass steer.
Labour rears its ugly head
Despite the current more generous cattle supply, no processors we have spoken to for this report are lifting daily kill capacity, for one simple reason: labour.
As has been anticipated for much of this year, labour access is now emerging as the primary limiting factor in weekly beef processing volume, with cattle supply becoming a lesser consideration.
Slaughter numbers rise
The seven-day national kill for the week ended Friday (week 46) showed a sharp rise in processing numbers.
The national tally rose to 99,558 head for the week – a 6pc rise on the previous week and the highest number recorded in 14 weeks. In fact last week was the fifth highest seven-day slaughter tally for the 2022 season, and only the third time this year that kills exceeded the same week last year (Easter cycles excepted).
The rises were most evident in the states where the weather impact is now starting to ease.
Queensland kills, for example, jumped 7pc to just over 55,600 – easily the state’s highest weekly level all year. In fact last week’s kill in Queensland was bigger than the corresponding weeks in both 2021 and 2020.
Kills in Victoria and NSW also rose, but they were coming off a lower base, at 11,869 and 23,855 head, respectively.
Tomorrow: Lotfeeders, processors and analysts discuss the cattle supply and demand outlook, heading into 2023 during Primex field days.
Editor’s note: For those who are interested, there is absolutely nothing in the claim made in The Australian newspaper this morning that Brazil’s Minerva Foods is making a play for the Teys Australia beef processing business. Unlike The Australian, apparently, we simply picked up the phone and asked the chairman.