Winter and early spring offered no reprieve from widespread dry conditions for the majority of Australian cattle producers, who continue to contend with scarce water availability, rising feed costs and growing financial pressure.
High processor throughput, in particular the elevated female slaughter, reflects ongoing herd liquidation and impacts forecasted beef production. On a 12-month rolling basis, the female percentage of adult slaughter remains at 54%, keeping the national herd firmly locked in a contraction phase. The excess turnoff of breeding stock and poor rainfall outlook has resulted in adult cattle slaughter for 2019 being revised higher to 8.4 million head, up 7% on last year.
Beef production has also been adjusted higher for the year to reflect the elevated turnoff and is forecast at 2.4 million tonnes carcase weight (cwt), up 4%. A downward trend in adult carcase weights has offset some of the impacts of increased slaughter, despite the number of cattle on feed reaching a new record in the June 2019 quarter, at just below 1.15 million head.
China has become a key pillar in world meat trade with an increasing impact on the global market and subsequent price movements in the Australian domestic market. The strong finished cattle prices seen in 2019 have been supported by surging demand in China (underpinned by the ongoing African Swine Fever epidemic) and a favourable Australian dollar.
The ongoing US-China trade war has created uncertainty for the global economy and future demand for red meat. However, broad demand factors in many key export markets are still holding, and with the forecast for Australian cattle supplies to tighten over the next few years, continued support for finished cattle prices is expected.
Store cattle prices have remained steady throughout winter and into spring, with southern regions supporting the north, where conditions are hampering restocker activity. It remains a matter of when, not if, the store market experiences a significant increase, once seasonal conditions improve.
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