THE state’s live cattle exporters are preparing for an improved season ahead, while farmers in the processed meat market have already enjoyed a dramatic improvement in fortunes so far this year.
Processed meat exports, which are slaughtered in Western Australia, were up 48 per cent for the financial year until February, according to the Department of Agriculture and Food.
That meant exports of processed product for the period were almost $120 million, already surpassing last year’s figure of $111 million.
Live exports trended in the opposite direction, however, with the number of WA cattle shipped live overseas down 22 per cent to 143,000.
Improved prices ameliorated the drop in numbers in WA, with the value of live exports for the period estimated to be around 16 per cent lower than the previous corresponding period.
WA’s market share of national exports has fallen from 30 per cent to 18 per cent, the figures show.
The national total was up 42 per cent to almost 800,000 head shipped live for the financial year to February.
In the 2013-14 financial year, live cattle exports from WA were nearly $245 million, so a continuation of the trend would see that figure sit at just more than $200 million for this year.
Despite those figures, the industry is very positive, with Elders contractor Preston Clarke saying the signs for the industry are positive.
“We’ve got export orders coming in on a very regular basis,” he said.
Two key nations driving demand are Turkey and Israel, both growing customers, Mr Clarke told Business News, adding that he wasn’t sure WA alone could match demand.
He said cattle were fetching higher prices than in the past, with the price of meat up almost 20 per cent on the trend level.
Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston was upbeat about the strong prices available to producers.
“For example, the opening price of 224 cents per kilogram liveweight for feeder yearlings (young cattle suitable for finishing on grass or grain) is the highest January price received in the last five years and 22 per cent higher than in 2014,” Mr Baston said.
He said low levels of supply and continued demand for beef had driven the price increase.
Mr Clarke believed drought conditions on the east coast would continue to mean higher prices for WA exports.
Nonetheless, medium-term success in the industry would require climate conditions in the west to remain beneficial.
Although WA has not been affected by drought conditions to the same degree as some other areas, the impact has still been felt.
Some northern pastoralists were expanding operations southward, Mr Clarke said, particularly around Eneabba, to ensure they could have better water supply during the growth process.
Carol Redford, whose family has farmed cattle near Gin Gin for decades, said signs were positive for the coming season, with most of the trade due towards the latter part of the calendar year.
Ms Redford’s farm is a live export operation with around 400 Black Angus cattle, making it a small operation compared with some up north.
For the coming season, she forecast another increase in the price for live cattle of around 10 per cent.
Ms Redford was also bullish about the long-term future of the industry, predicting that rising incomes in Asia would lead to a substantially increased demand for protein globally.
Particularly, consumers would be interested in healthy and safely sourced food, a domestic strength, Ms Redford said.
But there would be competition, warned the department, particularly from India.
The nation has the world’s largest cattle herd, although much of that for consumption is buffalo, and is within very close proximity to some of our major export partners.
Ms Redford said foreign competition had made the local industry smarter as it embraced new technology.