ELDERS has landed a second air shipment of Australian live slaughter-ready cattle into China after taking on board lessons learned from its first export experience in the large and emerging beef market.
In October last year, Elders delivered the first ever cargo-load of 150 cattle on a 747-jumbo-jet under the new animal health protocol arrangements signed-off between the Australian and Chinese governments several months before.
That historic shipment landed at Chongqing airport in Southwest China after a 12 hour journey from Melbourne with a brief fuel stop-over in Darwin.
The Angus and Hereford steers weighed about 480 to 600 kilograms each and were acquired from farms in southern NSW and northern Victoria and landed in excellent condition.
The only real hiccup was the rejection of about 25 head of cattle by Australian animal health authorities during the loading process, due to insufficient head clearance for the wooden crates they were transported in.
Elders live exports general manager Cameron Hall said the second air shipment into China was largely similar to the first one but contained some subtle differences.
The latest cargo delivered 180 head of Angus, Angus Hereford Cross, Hereford, Charolais, Shorthorn and Murray Grey steers with a 500kg average weight.
Mr Hall said the cattle weight in total fell just shy of the aircraft’s maximum payload, and were carried in crates of three to five head of cattle “with plenty of room in those pens”.
He said all the cattle were sourced out of Victoria, loaded late last night at Melbourne airport before departing at 3am before landing in China about 5pm east coast Australia time today.
The flight touched down at Zhengzhou City and the cattle were again purchased by China’s largest beef producers Chongqing Hondo Agriculture Group which has a purpose built quarantine facility.
The cattle fall under requirements of Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) and standards for approved facilities.
Under the protocol agreement, slaughter cattle must be processed within 14 days of arrival in China after being held in quarantine for three days.
Mr Hall said his company knew the first shipment in October last year was a trial one that largely provided the opportunity for authorities from both countries to “really understand and test the protocols and procedures”.
He said that first experience was subsequently used to assess working arrangements and consider how future export arrangements could be develop.
“Continued discussions between the governments of the two countries are not so much around the health protocol - which is set and approved - but around the additional conditions required to help facilitate the shipments,” he said.
Mr Hall said Elder’s Chinese customers were very happy with the quality of livestock and the condition they arrived in on that first shipment but would have liked more cattle or more weight of beef arriving, to meet customer requirements.
“They understood that was an initial trial shipment,” he said.
“What we achieved was to iron out any areas of concern caused in the first shipment.
“A high degree of focus was taken on the size and type of cattle procured (for the second shipment) to ensure they all met the requirements around crate height and those sorts of things.
“We increased the crate height and there was no rejection or loss of animals available for the shipment, apart from two cattle that we withdrew which were a bit sore.
“The final inspection, loading and everything, both between the Chinese and Australian authorities, went very smoothly.”
Mr Hall said Elders expected to make a small financial profit from the second shipment but stressed it was “an important next step in the development and the implementation of the trade in live slaughter ready cattle out of Australia into China”.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has said the feeder and slaughter cattle market into China would start-off slowly but could reach 1 million head per year in a decade.
While air shipments have road-tested the market early on, sea vessels are expected to deliver real volumes in future to meet China’s huge and expanding beef demand.
Mr Hall said ocean bound shipments of slaughter-ready and feeder cattle out of Australia to China were expected to start by the year’s end.
But he said the starting date would be determined; firstly by the approval of sea freight supply chains by the Chinese and Australian governments; and secondly by the availability of suitable cattle to go aboard those vessels.
A third determining factor he said, would be forward ordering and commitment books of exporters on available vessels.
“All those things will need to really start lining up now,” he said.
“Whether that happens in three months, six months or eight months is still really anyone’s guess but my suggestion is we’re likely to see shipments of live feeder and slaughter cattle into China on boats by the end of this calendar year.
“It’s far too early to tell which will be the first port; that will partly be determined by the specifications required by customers in breed types, what the end market is and where the availability of cattle will be at its greatest”
Elders CEO Mark Allison said China’s beef cattle trade was important for Australian exporters and producers alike and the second shipment represented “ongoing efforts by many to build the trade”.
“This shipment into Zhengzhou demonstrates the continued investment from Elders, the importers and both Australian and Chinese authorities,” he said.
“Although the trade won’t appear overnight, Elders is working hard to ensure Australian beef producers remain internationally competitive and have a safe and reliable supply chain into China.”
When Elders launched its first air shipment into China last October, Mr Joyce said, “The way prices are going at the moment, the cattle will be travelling above deck at the pointy end of the plane in first class and the passengers will be in the cargo section below”.