JUST how much beef hobby farming is going on is showing up in the latest agricultural census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, along with the fact the north is leading the herd rebuild.
The ABS has the total number of beef cattle at 22,306,275 at June 30 2016, which is down one per cent on the 2014-15 figure.
However, a change in collection methodology where the ABS has lifted the cut-off bar by taking the Estimated Value of Agricultural Operations (EVAO) base to $40,000, rather than its previous $5000 minimum, has come into play.
Analysts believe it effectively means around two million head weren’t accounted for, with around 20 per cent less producers surveyed.
Add in the 2.7m head dairy herd, which the ABS counts separately, and the figure is in line with Meat and Livestock Australia estimates.
Interestingly, given the record high cattle prices, a larger portion of producers with smaller beef herds would have made it into that higher $40,000 bracket in this survey than would typically be the case.
What that tells us, says MLA’s market information boss Ben Thomas, is there are now a lot of smaller holding beef farms in the mix.
While the beef herd is at its smallest this decade, it hasn’t dropped as low as it did in the late 1980s when it was south of the 22 million mark.
ABS statisticians said the decline in herd size aligned with industry expectations, although the story varied by region.
“In the NT and some parts of Queensland there were more favourable conditions for pastures and we are seeing the start of herd rebuilding in those areas in 2015-16,” said the director of the ABS’ environment and agriculture statistics section Lauren Binns.
Good pasture conditions in Queensland - which has the largest numbers of cattle - late in the survey period actually led to an increase in heifers and calves but that was offset by a decline in all other beef cattle.
The Queensland beef cattle herd was 10,390,122 at the end of June, 2016.
In recent years the percentage of the national herd in Queensland has remained fairly stable, increasing only slightly between 2014-15 and 2015-16, Ms Binns said.
The ABS data shows there has been a decline in the average individual herd size in most states between 2014 and 2016, except, once again, in the NT.
In Queensland, the average herd size dropped from 1046 in 2014 to 897 in 2016.
In NSW, it dropped from 741 to 736 in the same time period.
In the NT, it shifted from 10,996 in 2014 to 11,239 in 2016.
The gross value of cattle and calves slaughtered nationally increased by 13 per cent to $13.1 billion.
Again, the Queensland proportion has remained relatively stable, fluctuating around the 44pc mark.
Ms Binns said strong export and saleyard prices, combined with generally unfavourable seasonal conditions, saw higher slaughter rates and declining herds in 2015-16.
WA herd remains stable
THE West Australian rangelands cattle herd has remained relatively stable over the past three years, sitting around one million head.
Unlike the Eastern states, WA’s north has experienced relatively steady seasonal rainfall in recent years and, as such, is not in a herd re-building stage, according to WA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s manager of the Northern Beef Futures project Mark Ritchie.
“The Kimberley region, which relies on summer tropical rainfall, has recorded above average rainfall in the 2016/17 wet season, while the north western region of the Pilbara is experiencing a wetter than average year,” he said.
The majority of cattle properties in these regions are grazing operations on pastoral leases, which rely on native pastures, surface water and ground water.
The Northern Beef Futures project is working with cattle businesses and stakeholders in these regions to enhance the industry’s capacity to grow.
It has several activities underway to support the industry through developing market diversity, improved business models and integrated supply chains.
For example, nearly 50 pastoral businesses across the Kimberley and Pilbara are currently participating in a program to identify opportunities to grow their businesses, with the support of business improvement grants from the State Government, Mr Ritchie said.
“This has enabled businesses to tackle challenges, such as improving the reproductive performance and nutrition of their herd, to improve productivity and profitability,” he said.
“Asian demand for beef continues to grow and drive market opportunities for WA cattle business, with Korea, Indonesia, Japan and China leading the way,” he said.
“In 2016, Korea, Japan and Indonesia were the largest boxed beef export customers, importing a combined $87 million worth of beef.
“Indonesia was the State’s largest live cattle market in 2016, which imported nearly 156,000 head in 2016, worth $174 million.
“WA beef exporters are also investigating opportunities for retail-ready, high value cuts to China and other Asian markets.”
The United States is another major customer, with boxed beef exports rising almost 20pc in the first 5 months of 2017 compared to same period last year, Mr Ritchie said.
“WA’s proximity to Asia, as well as its reputation as a safe, high value cattle producer is important to achieve market access in the global marketplace,” he said.