Cattle supplies are anticipated to remain tight in 2018 with only a small rise forecast in adult slaughter to 7.4 million head, as the herd rebuild continues. A dry winter/spring across many parts of Australia resulted in higher than expected turn-off in the second half of 2017, which is likely to result in another restricted year for cattle flow in 2018. If the three-month rainfall outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) comes to fruition, it is likely to see tight supplies in certain regions, particularly through the mid part of the year.
After a record year for carcase weights in 2017, 2018 will likely see this drop back in line with long-term trends. This, combined with the forecasted increase in slaughter, would see beef production lifting 1% to 2.17 million tonnes carcase weight (cwt).
A lower number of cattle on feed is expected after the highs seen in 2017, where there were three consecutive quarters with over one million head on feed. A decline towards the 850,000–950,000 head mark is expected, driven by increasing grain prices combined with a growing gap between feeder and 100-day finished over-the-hook prices (¢/kg) – underpinned by restockers continuing to pay premiums in the young cattle market and increased US competition in key grainfed export markets.
It is shaping up to be a challenging year ahead for Australian beef exports, with expected increases in production and exports from many of our major competitors, including the US and Brazil. Australia's boxed beef exports are still expected to edge above one million tonnes shipped weight (swt) following the forecasted growth in production, which will be larger than any year prior to 2013, as many strong international demand fundamentals remain in place. A key factor will be if the US consumer continues increasing their per capita consumption – soaking up much of the growing US production and preventing a large portion of product from entering export markets.
Prices will come under pressure in 2018 and 2019 as the aforementioned international competition intensifies, with a key watchout being the premium Australia can continue to command for its high quality product. Restocker interest throughout the year will again be a key driver of the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI). The rally seen throughout October/November 2017, due to some good rainfall across Queensland and NSW, demonstrated restocker intent given the right conditions.
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