State of the state: Queensland

09 May 2018

Prices came under pressure as a challenging start to the year saw increased yardings across Queensland saleyards

  • 1 May marked the official end to the northern wet season, as producers across Queensland face varying conditions.
  • January to April state-wide saleyard throughput totalled 305,000 head, up 17% on 2017 numbers.
  • Increased supply impacted prices, as the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) dropped below 500¢/kg carcase weight (cwt) for the first time since 2015.

2017–18 wet season rainfall mixed

The establishment of La Niña conditions in December 2017 sparked optimism among cattle producers; however, summer rainfall totals varied across Queensland. A late season tropical low brought rain to some northern and western parts of the state, while some central and southern regions are dealing with worsening conditions.

For those areas that did receive rain, the timing was ideal, with some producers now entering winter with decent pasture for the first time in six years. Having said this, widespread rain is required in early spring to reignite restocker demand and support prices for the 2018–19 summer.

Increased saleyard throughput as restockers remain active

Dry weather forced many producers to offload stock in early 2018, with yardings up in all but two of the state’s major saleyards when compared to 2017. Poor conditions in NSW also contributed to the lift in numbers, with some producers reportedly sending drought-affected cattle to Queensland in search of higher prices.

Year-to-April yardings across Queensland saleyards totalled 305,000 head, an increase of 44,000 head on 2017 numbers. The largest increase was in Emerald, with throughput up 37% year-on-year, while total yardings at Roma (store and prime sales combined) were up 26%.

In a positive sign for producer sentiment, easing prices saw restockers maintain a reasonably strong market presence. According to data sourced through MLA’s National Livestock Reporting Service, between January and April restockers accounted for 46% of saleyard cattle purchases in Queensland (not including calves and bulls), up 6% year-on-year. Feedlot buyers also added competition, accounting for 28% of cattle sales, which was comparable to 2017.

Prices ease

Increased supplies contributed to the downward trend for all of the major cattle saleyard indicators across the eastern states as producers wait for conditions to improve. The Queensland medium steer indicator finished April at 243¢/kg live weight (lwt), which was 62¢ lower than April 2017, while feeder steers fell by 68¢ to 270¢/kg lwt.

The Queensland medium cow indicator averaged 185¢/kg lwt in April 2018, down from 224¢/kg lwt in April 2017. Despite the decline, cows are fetching a premium in Queensland when compared to other states, with the NSW medium cow indicator ending April at 164¢/kg lwt and 163¢/kg lwt in Victoria.

While over-the-hook (OTH) indicators fell over the same period, they were not down by as much as saleyard indicators. The Queensland OTH heavy steer indicator fell 47¢ for the year-to-April to 469¢/kg cwt. Strong export demand, particularly for grainfed beef in Asian markets, has supported OTH indicators in early 2018. For more information on Australian beef exports, please refer to a recent MLA update.

Female slaughter on the rise

While first quarter cattle slaughter rose moderately when compared to 2017, female slaughter saw a more pronounced rise. For the year-to-March (latest available ABS data), Queensland slaughter totalled 785,000 head, up 3% year-on-year. Female slaughter, however, increased by 11%, as herd rebuilding efforts have slowed as many producers wait for seasonal conditions to improve.

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