The gradual improvement in Eastern States beef kills since July saw last week’s tally reach 141,294 head – the highest throughput seen so far this year.
Coincidentally, the figure is also the highest in exactly 12 months, exceeded only by a kill above 142,000 head in the week ending October 28 last year.
While the number is relatively high by recent standards, the rate of slaughter earlier this year and throughout 2011 has been low, in a broader context, due mainly to heavy female retention for herd rebuilding and a desire to hold steers to add more weight in the face of very good seasonal conditions.
Subdued export demand has also contributed.
Adding weight to the recent steady rise in process numbers has been seasonal trends in parts of southern Australia, with an 8pc increase in activity in Victoria over the past fortnight, finishing last week at 20,211 head. That’s the largest Victorian weekly kill seen since May, reflecting the return to higher turnoff after the winter lull.
On a financial year-to-date basis, Victoria has now processed more than 300,000 head so far in 2012-13, almost 5pc higher than this time a year ago.
The seasonal outlook across much of eastern Australia is also pushing more cattle towards slaughter – particularly as herd rebuilding now sees many paddocks accommodating more cattle than they did two years ago.
Queensland’s kill last week was 74,607 head, unchanged from a week earlier, but 1pc lower than this time last year. The female portion (Queensland is the only state where the metric is recorded) continues to hover below 30pc, as it has for most of this year. The NSW kill last week was +2pc at 34,444 head; Tasmania +3pc at 3985 head; and South Australia -1pc at 8047.
The rapidly growing need for a spring break has many producers anxiously watching weather forecasts.
Cattle prices, both direct consignment (in southern regions, at least) and via saleyards decreased across many categories last week, influenced by little sign of improvement in overall demand conditions in overseas markets, and an A$ hovering above US103c.
Southern Queensland grids generally remained unchanged last week; however there was evidence of 5-10c declines in some southern grids, judging by feedback from processors yesterday. The ample supply of cattle is still putting pressure on slaughter livestock prices, however.
Processors with plants in southern Queensland reported ‘adequate’, rather than ‘abundant’ cattle supply out of the paddock, with some slots yet to be filled in next week’s rosters. Most lines are still holding up remarkably well condition-wise, and some outstanding grassfed cattle are still being presented out of the far western Channel Country.
Saleyards numbers continued to decline last week, however, with a 2pc easing in yardings reported by the National Livestock Reporting Service. An increasing number of plain cattle continue to enter markets, with the dry spring weather across much of the country taking its toll on quality.
This has been reflected in the performance of the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator, which closed yesterday at below 347c/kg – its lowest point since winter, 2010. The lower recent price for young cattle is seeing some producers elect to retain stock if feed levels permit, hopeful of some late spring rain to boost demand heading into November.
In the Queensland saleyard system, total supply declined 14pc last week, while Victoria and NSW both went against the grain, reporting saleyard numbers up 8pc.
Despite the increase in throughput the quality of NSW cattle continued to be plain with young cattle feeling the effects of the persistent dry weather. Prices were cheaper across most categories, due mainly to quality issues.
Export beef market outlook
Imported beef prices into the US continued to trade firm last week, although activity was notably slower than the previous seven-day cycle.
Market participants appeared to take a step back given the escalation in price that was seen a week earlier, Steiner Consulting said it its weekly report. Some end-users were able to secure product and likely were willing to wait until New Zealand slaughter picks up.
With cattle slaughter in Australia on the rise and declining prices for cattle in key producing areas, end-users in the US see this as a signal not to chase prices higher, Steiner said.
But while US end-users may expect/hope/wish that the lower cattle prices in Australia will translate into lower meat price offerings, so far that is not happened.
Indeed some market participants indicated that Australian packers remained firm in their offerings, particularly for product that may deliver after the Christmas holidays.
There was plenty of talk in the market last week that Japan and other markets were buying more Australian beef than they did in September and early October.