FOR the second year running, 36 per cent of the Australian cattle herd is being turned off Australian farms and stations - an unprecedented liquidation of stock that will have consequences for years to come.
In its fourth-quarter update to its 2015 projections, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) confirmed that this year will join 2014 in the history books for rapid depletion of herd numbers.
The 10-year average ratio of stock turned off against the size of the herd is 31 per cent, MLA calculated.
Turning off 36 per cent for two years running will be felt by the beef industry in 2017, when national turn-off “is estimated to account for just 30 per cent of the starting herd (26.1 million head), resulting in a significant adjustment for the industry in terms of the numbers available for live export and processing”.
The current turn-off notably includes a high proportion of females.
About 3.2 million cows and heifers were slaughtered in the first seven months of 2015, up 26 per cent on the five-year average.
“In turn, this means the proportion of females processed has accounted for 51 per cent of the total adult cattle kill – up considerably from the 10-year average of 47 per cent,” MLA reported.
“This will ultimately lead to fewer calves and lower beef production for the duration of the projection period (2015-2020).”
The ongoing slaughter has contributed to another bulge in beef exports.
Total exports are currently 39,000 tonnes ahead of the same time last year, but MLA expects the contraction in slaughter numbers and the United States slowdown to put the brakes on.
Exports for 2015 are now expected to total 1.24 million tonnes, less than 2014 but still the second-largest export volume on record.
Domestically, beef consumption is falling as prices climb.
However, MLA estimates that a nine per cent year-on-year increase in weighted average Australian retail beef prices ($16.78/kg) was enough to offset the fall in consumption over that period, with average expenditure on beef holding steady at $330.66 per person.