The pace of herd liquidation has accelerated in recent months as widespread dry conditions persist across many key production regions, limiting feed availability and generating severe stock water shortages. Many producers have destocked, or are now managing significantly depleted breeding herds, highlighted by record levels of cow and heifer slaughter – 58% of total adult cattle slaughter from March-May. This most recent wave of destocking further compounds the pace of future rebuilding prospects.
Elevated female slaughter and poor conditions have combined to drive average carcase weights lower this year. Despite forecast national slaughter being revised higher to 8.1 million head in 2019, the lower slaughter weights have underpinned unchanged production levels, at an estimated 2.3 million tonnes carcase weight (cwt).
The lot feeding sector continues to support national beef production and has been a critical link in the supply chain during the prolonged dry period. The number of cattle on feed reached a new record in the March 2019 quarter and remained above the 1.1 million head mark for the fourth consecutive quarter. This number is expected to remain high, given finishing cattle on limited pasture remains challenging.
Demand for Australian beef has been robust so far in 2019, supported by a depreciating Australian dollar and China. However, competition is still intense with a record amount of beef being traded globally and more focus than ever on Asian markets. Australian beef exports are forecast to finish the year steady, at 1.13 million tonnes shipped weight (swt).
Prices for finished cattle have improved this year and are likely to find continued support given an expected tightening of supply during the remainder of the year. Young cattle prices have been reasonably subdued and, until seasonal conditions allow restockers to re-enter the market with confidence, the store market is unlikely to see any significant price corrections. However, if a solid break in conditions were to materialise, there is the potential for young cattle and productive female prices to see significant upside.
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