In this week’s episode of The Weekly Grill podcast series, host Kerry Lonergan turns the clock back to the 1970s, to take a look at the Great Aussie Cattle Slump.
The years 1974-78 were without question the toughest that the Australian beef cattle industry has ever seen.
In the lead-up to the slump, the national beef herd had built up to unprecedented levels above 31 million head. Meat market prices collapsed virtually overnight in 1974 as the two largest export customers, the US and Japan, withdrew their support for Australian beef. During the depths of the cycle, meatworks cattle were often worth less than the cost of freight to get them to market.
Domestic beef consumption soared to above 70kg/person, as meat was sold to the public at ‘give-away’ prices.
In addition to the financial impact, the beef slump took an enormous psychological toll on industry stakeholders.
What caused it? How bad did it get? Could it happen again? What did the industry learn?
Guests this week include veteran Northwest Queensland beef producer, Don McDonald, who was newly married when the cattle slump hit; former Australian Meat Industry Council processor group chief executive Steve Martyn; and veteran Victorian stock agent, Bruce Redpath, who was a fresh-faced new Elders recruit in 1974.
Check out our previous Weekly Grill podcasts here, including interviews with MLA managing director Jason Strong; grainfed branded beef pioneer Robin Hart, founder of Stockyard Beef; Grace Brennan, founder of ‘Buy from the Bush; Cattle Council of Australia president Markus Rathsmann; Patrick Warmoll, the boss of Jack’s Creek Wagyu; veteran pastoral company executive Roger Halliwell; retired non-packer beef exporter, Richard Rains; carbon trading expert, Toby Grogan from Impact Agriculture; Red Meat Advisory Council chair, John McKillop; stud cattle showing identities Gary Noller and Rob Sinnamon; veteran Victorian cattle buyer David Ronalds; beef processing legend, ACC’s David Foote; Live export class action facilitator, Tracey Hayes; Signature Beef’s Blair Angus; Consolidated Pastoral Co chief and Livecorp chairman, Troy Setter; nutrition scientist and MLA special skills board member, Manny Noakes; CCA independent northern and southern directors, Alice Greenup and Olivia Lawson; Australian Agricultural Co head Hugh Killen; Sydney independent red meat retailer Stephen Kelly; lotfeeder, Charlie Mort; processor and supply chain manager, Terry Nolan; livestock transport operator Ross Fraser; Organic supply chain manager Alister Ferguson; and our first cattle market outlook, with TEM’s Matt Dalgleish and Stockco’s Chris Howie.
The Weekly Grill is brought to readers and listeners by Elanco Animal Health.
Kerry your reference, The Weekly Grill podcast, to the beef crash of 1974-78 brings to mind one reaction to John Carter’s rather dramatic shooting of cattle, in 1977. No doubt John’s motivation was to emphasise, domestically, Australian cattle producer’s plight. At that time I was stationed in Tehran in the advanced stages of negotiation for the sale of frozen lamb to the Iranian Meat Organisation. This Government body was quick to remind me that meat must be worthless in Australia if producers were shooting cattle. Due to communication difficulties I was not immediately aware of the shooting, but the Iranians used the incident in an effort to revisit price negotiation. Other than delaying the signing of the contract (peripheral damage) we were able to maintain our price, due to absence of competition, as the Iranian revolution gained momentum.