Australian cattle exports forecast to increase - GAIN

Cattle exports forecast to increase to 750,000 head
calendar icon 29 January 2024
clock icon 3 minute read

Australian cattle exports are forecast to increase to 750,000 head from a downward revised estimate of 550,000 head in 2024, according to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report

Although this is a substantial 36% increase for 2024 it is still far below peaks of 1.3 million head achieved on three occasions over the last 10 years. This is also from a very low estimate for 2023 not seen for over 25 years. The key reason for this relatively modest forecast export increase is that during the first half of 2023 the price of cattle has become far more cost competitive for Australia’s major cattle export destinations. These lower cattle prices are expected to continue into 2024 with Australia reaching the tail end of its herd rebuild phase and even more cattle becoming available for a range of domestic and export markets in 2024.

Most of the beef cattle sourced for the live export trade are from the northern part of the Northern Territory, north Queensland and Western Australia. These regions represent two thirds of all live cattle exports from Australia. The other key live export port is Portland in Victoria which is more focused on the live dairy cattle trade due to its proximity to a major dairy farming region, which in typical circumstances when live export volumes are high represents around 10% of the overall volume of trade compared to the 2022 level of 21%.

The exceptionally good wet season that northern Australia experienced in early 2023 will place the region well to have ample supply of stock for the live export trade in 2024, particularly after a herd rebuild phase in recent years. Albeit the herd rebuild has perhaps not been as strong as the more southern parts of Australia due to mixed wet season rainfall outcomes in recent years.

Many suppliers to the Townsville port, have alternate options of selling their cattle to restockers and feedlots. The demand and price differences between the live export and domestic market options will influence producer decision making and consequently the volume of cattle sold for the live export trade.

It is anticipated that with increasing volumes of cattle becoming available for domestic purposes in 2024 that the live export market option will be competitive and support the forecast rise in live cattle exports. Key factors that continue to linger in Indonesia, Australia’s key live cattle export market, are foot and mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease (LSD). This has affected trade in 2022 and 2023 but the impact of these issues from within Indonesia had been dissipating. But, in August 2023 a small number of Australian livestock were detected with LSD some days after arriving in Indonesia. In response, the Indonesian government and subsequently the Malaysian government suspended trade with half of the registered pre-export quarantine depots in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.

Trade via the other depots is free to continue. Work is being carried out in Australia and Indonesia to understand the point of origin of the LSD infection in the Australian cattle. If not for this uncertainty a higher forecast for 2024 would be set, given the lower current cattle prices that are expected to continue into 2024 which are favouring the trade.

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