CATTLE producers appear willing to forego the benefits of timely slaughter statistics to feed into their marketing decisions to avoid giving overseas beef buyers ammunition for driving down prices.
In a rare sign of supply chain unity, producers have backed the processing sector’s argument that the benefits of up-to-the-minute publishing of abattoir kill data must outweigh the costs to the industry as a whole.
For the third week running, Meat and Livestock Australia’s National Livestock Reporting Service has been forced to publish its weekly Eastern States Slaughter Report with “no quotes” in huge chunks of Queensland and NSW categories as a result of a “lack of data received from contributors.”
Big processor JBS Australia brought widespread concerns about the value of the weekly reports to a head when it decided to stop providing its figures, effectively rendering useless any reporting of Queensland and NSW slaughter rates.
Peak producer group Cattle Council of Australia says while the market intelligence has certainly been used by savvy producers to gain advantage in terms of turning off cattle in low supply periods, the current stalemate highlights the need to ask “at what expense?”
“This has brought to a boil an issue that needs to be fixed,” said CCA director David Hill.
“What information do producers need on-the-ground to make credible and informed decisions that will flow through to profitability along the whole supply chain?
“What is the cost/benefit of giving up this information if it can be used to disadvantage our brand owners?
“Australian beef competes in highly competitive global markets and that has to be considered at all points.”
Despite being compiled from information supplied voluntarily and covering only 95 per cent of slaughter cattle, the accuracy of the reports in terms of demonstrating trends seems to have now been established.
Analysis conducted by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) comparing the reports over the past five years to monthly Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) slaughter data and Federal Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAFF) export shipped weight data show consistent parallels.
NLRS data is routinely six to nine per cent below the ABS data and 10-12pc below the DAFF export data.
Both those data sources are based on compulsory reporting.
Processors suggest that those statistics, provided up to six weeks after the fact, may be adequate.
Processor representatives will meet next week to formulate an official policy on the matter, however Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said the key thing was the true worth of all data collected had to be evident.
Collection and management of data across Australian industry was a major topic at the moment and there was no longer room for a ‘set and forget’ approach, which was perhaps what had occurred in this case, he said.
“As an industry we have to make sure what is collected and put together is indeed worthwhile,” he said.
“Keep in mind the processing sector are innovators in this area. We constantly change the way we do business based on data.”
Asked as to whether this issue may fuel further criticisms of processors hindering price transparency, Mr Hutchinson said: “We want to be open and transparent but we won’t do it blindly.
“Rather than continue to accuse the processing sector of hiding information, perhaps it is more opportune for the industry at large to come to the table and help to find a solution as to what is the best way to collect and use data.”
For its part, MLA said the question of whether processors should be compelled to provide slaughter information was a decision for the industry.
“NLRS remain ready to report slaughter numbers for Queensland and NSW on supply of slaughter data from processors in those states,” an MLA statement said.
A new way to collect data
IN the leadup to the processor backdown on supplying kill data, MLA had instigated changes to the way it collects the information in line with Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendations to improve price transparency.
It had approached processors for support in gathering data on a more frequent basis, via a new online data import platform tailored to each facility.
The platform would incorporate the ability to enter over-the-hooks prices and slaughter volumes for each category on a daily basis as well as identifying discounts built into the aggregation.
In a letter sent to processors, MLA said the platform had been created to improve efficiencies with collecting data, minimising errors, as well as further incorporating authentications logins to create greater data security.
It would eliminate the need for MLA staff to make calls and would allow plant office staff to login and directly enter relevant data in less time and with little need for a physical submission form, which is clunky and inefficient, the letter said.