IN a recurring theme that has echoed throughout much of eastern Australia’s 2022 beef processing season, rain is again disrupting slaughter cattle supply across large expanses of cattle country.
Falls of up to 65mm across central, western and northwestern Queensland, and parts of NSW in the past 24 hours have further disrupted finished cattle access this week, with further problems already anticipated into next week. The eight day forecast has further rain falling across central and southern Queensland and northeastern NSW.
Several large Central and Southern Queensland processing plants had already scheduled four-day working weeks this week and next, but are now anticipating as few as three days of operations this week, and again next week. In some regions, paddocks were still wet from earlier rain, meaning an additional 25-50mm on top has only added to the challenges in moving and loading cattle.
Up to 50mm fell around Blackall and Isisford, and 40-50mm was common across parts of far western Queensland overnight.
“We have our requirements covered until Friday, but this rain will create some challenges in filling rosters next week,” one large multi-site Queensland processor told Beef Central this morning. “With more rain coming on Friday, it’s going to be a disrupted couple of weeks heading into spring – at a time when supply was already very tight.”
Both Teys and JBS Queensland had buyers operating at Inverell sale this morning, having been absent earlier – evidence that northern supply has been further impacted by the weather.
Queensland processor direct consignment grid offers were mostly unchanged this week, following last week’s sharp 20-35c/kg rises. That came in response to persistent competition from a bevy of Victorian and southern NSW processors pressing north to try to fill their kill rosters – albeit with a 40-50c/kg freight bill attached to get those cattle home.
It’s reflective of the desperate shortage of slaughter cattle in southern Australia presently, forcing meatworks buyers to roam much further north to try to protect beef supply contracts and keep their employees engaged.
One large vertically integrated supply chain is again shifting finished grainfed cattle out of its Queensland feedlots all the way to its plant in southern NSW for slaughter, simply to help keep local staff employed. The alternative is, close southern plants temporarily, running the considerable risk of losing staff to other industries, in which case it becomes doubly-hard to encourage them back once cattle numbers again start to rise.
While freight bills are high for southern processors currently buying cattle in Queensland, southern grass bullocks made the equivalent of around 850-860c/kg at Barnawartha last week, and cows 820c/kg equivalent (415-420c/kg on-leg) at Tamworth yesterday.
Queensland processors’ direct consignment offers seen this morning have heavy cows back up to 670c/kg (having fallen to 600-620c only four to six weeks ago, although limited business may have been written at those levels). Four-tooth export-weight grass ox are up to 735c/kg (some HGP-free quotes 740c), up 35c on last week, having drifted as low as 695c last month.
Southern states direct consignment offers this week have cows at 700c/kg (30c above Queensland) and four-tooth steers 775c (+35), and 820c/kg on MSA steer. But in reality, those figures are ‘just numbers’ and very little business is actually being written despite those rates, several southern processors told Beef Central.
Judging by attendance at Queensland sales early this week, the recent price advances in Queensland do not yet appear to have seen off the saleyards and paddock buying activity of southerners.
Season continues to impact
The continuing strong seasonal conditions across much of eastern Australia is again spreading cattle out, and those vendors who are not pushed into selling due to grass, are choosing not to. It means cattle foregone now for kills later are likely to carry additional weight and finish, heading into the last quarter.
Large Queensland processors who only last month had kills well-covered for up to three or four weeks ahead are now much more current, Beef Central was told, with many only a week forward at present.
Editor’s note: Since the start of August, the National Livestock Reporting Service no longer provides a weekly Over-the-hooks slaughter cattle price summary. The NLRS OTH report is now compiled only monthly, on publicly-accessible grids only. Lack of processor participation was given as the reason.