Slow start for live export, but projections are positive

northern cattle

Cattle live exports ended 2022 at their lowest point for a decade, and 2023 hasn’t kicked off any better. Australia sent the least number of live cattle offshore in January that it has for that month in at least the past 20 years. In that period, total live exports for any given month - not just January - have only dropped to a lower figure three times. It’s not all bad news though, with the latest industry outlook for the trade forecasting it will pick up as domestic cattle numbers increase and the demand for meat continues to grow in Asia.

Total live cattle exports for 2022 were down about 12% year-on-year at 592,656 head, which was 30% below the five-year average. Trade to Vietnam accounted for most of this loss, with about 100,000 head less sent to that market, and their share dropping from 23% to below 10%. China took most of its market share, nearly doubling to close at 24%. China took more than 140,000 head, which was above the five-year average. Despite both foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease challenges in Indonesia, cattle numbers exported to this market dropped only slightly year-on-year, down 3%, and its market share increased by 5%. That said, live cattle exports to Indonesia were back 33% on the five-year average.

As mentioned, trade has been very slow out the gate for January 2023, with just shy of 25,000 head sent offshore for the month, 48% less than the five-year average for the month. Despite China’s strength in 2022, no cattle were sent there in January.  Feeder shipments went to Indonesia, Israel, and the Philippines; Vietnam took both breeder and slaughter stock. This saw Vietnamese numbers up 256% on last January, but Indonesia’s intake was down 44%.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s January industry projections forecasts live cattle exports will increase slightly year-on-year in 2023, up to 619,000 head.  Exports are projected to continue to grow to 681,000 in 2024 before reaching 750,000 in 2025, a jump of 25% in 2022. In comparison, the previous projections, released in June 2022, had live cattle exports only reaching 640,000 head by 2024, which would be back below 2021 levels. MLA’s commentary on live export was more upbeat this time around, despite low numbers sent in 2022, with the domestic herd growth and subsequent lower pricing likely to boost trade.

This positivity didn’t eventuate in January, which is being put down primarily to cattle availability due to substantial wet season rainfall and its impact on both cattle numbers and logistics, especially in WA. There are also reports of a third wave of FMD in Indonesia impacting trade. And while Australian prices have come back from record highs, cheaper competition from Indian Buffalo Meat and now Brazil is playing a role, with beef exports from Brazil to Indonesia up 300% in 2021-22, and reports of nearly a dozen new Brazilian meat processors having been approved for export to Indonesia

What does it mean?

Cattle numbers being loaded onto ships should be on the increase as we head into the dry.  A growing herd and good rainfall in many areas will support the forecasted increase in live export this year. However global inflation is likely to continue to have many consumers looking for the cheaper option, of which supply is also growing from other markets. This could put downward pressure on prices within the trade this year.

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Key Points

  • Live cattle exports for 2022 dropped to the lowest total since the 2011-12 ban.
  • Only half the cattle usually exported in January were sent offshore this year, with supply constrained and demand being slow out the gate.
  • Industry projections are positive for an uptick in trade in 2023 and beyond.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: ABS, MLA, Mecardo

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