2016 Australian beef production contracts despite record carcase weights

16 February 2017

Tighter cattle availability in 2016 saw national adult cattle slaughter drop 19% from the previous year, to 7.3 million head (Australian Bureau of Statistics). Australian beef production, however, declined to a slightly lesser extent (16%) than slaughter, to 2.1 million tonnes cwt – partially offset by average carcase weights reaching a record high of 287.83kg/head for the year.

Typically, average carcase weights increase slightly each year, given an average season, driven largely by genetic and management improvements. However, constrained by widespread poor seasonal conditions and impacted by a greater number of females slaughtered as herd liquidation reached its peak, the national average adult cattle carcase weight declined 10kg from the high levels in 2012 (287.36kg) to 276.82kg in 2014. A greater proportion of cattle being lot fed, combined with some improvement in seasonal conditions and feed availability, incentivising the retention of females, saw average carcase weights recover in 2015 and reach new highs in 2016.

Beef production in each state reflects the impact of drought, the break in seasonal conditions and the influence of the greater proportion of grainfed cattle during 2016:

  • Production in NSW eased 17% year-on-year to 455,457 tonnes cwt, following a decline of 19% in adult cattle slaughter which was somewhat offset by a 3% (7.5kg) lift in average carcase weights to 288.83kg/head.
  • Queensland slaughter fell 19% from year-ago levels, while production declined 15% to 1.02 million tonnes cwt, buoyed by carcase weights lifting 5% from 2015, to 302.8kg/head.
  • Production declined by the same magnitude as slaughter in Victoria, back 23% year-on-year to 355,131 tonnes cwt, while carcase weights declined 1% to 255.11kg/head – attributed to dairy herd liquidation.
  • Underpinned by a 21% decrease in slaughter, SA beef production was 18% lower than 2015, at 108,396 tonnes cwt – assisted partly by a 7.2kg increase in carcase weights (286.57kg/head).
  • Least affected by the widespread dry conditions and supported by a 10.58kg increase in average carcase weight (269.25kg/head), WA production decreased 3% (104,759 tonnes cwt) following a decline 7% in cattle slaughter.
  • Tasmania recorded a 4% decline in the average carcase weight to 269.23kg/head, which, when coupled with a 16% decrease in slaughter, saw production fall 18% year-on-year, to 53,817 tonnes cwt.

As highlighted in MLA’s recently released Cattle Industry Projections, Australian beef production is anticipated to decline further in 2017,  before recovering from 2018 onwards (assuming average seasonal conditions) as herd rebuilding efforts, hence greater supply, increase turn-off and slaughter throughput. Further underpinning the forecast increase in production out to 2021 is the expectation that the average carcase will continue to get heavier.

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