More than 100,000 cattle have been exported out of Darwin since the start of December as hopes of big monsoonal rains continue to fade across the parched Top End.
Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association chairman, David Warriner, said while producers hadn't given up all hope of a seasonal break in March and April, the dry conditions across much of northern Australia was driving the cattle turn-off.
"Producers in the Barkly have been lightening off stock numbers since January," he said.
“Stations enduring prolonged dry are selling cattle and with severe drought in much of Queensland restricting selling options there, demand from live exporters is proving particularly valuable to the market,” Mr Warriner said.
While the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) nosedived to 385.25c by Tuesday night, live export prices have remained relatively buoyant with suitable steers being quoted at up to $3.35 a kilogram liveweight.
“With the price sitting at around $3/kg for much of the end of 2018, livestock exports remain a good option for producers and sets a positive floor price in the whole market for young cattle,” Mr Warriner said.
“The very dry conditions will continue to put downward pressure on prices and we do expect live export prices may retreat in the coming weeks, though perhaps not as pronounced as the decline in rates in eastern saleyards.”
Mr Warriner said the importance to producers of live export competition and its ability to absorb cattle coming onto the market which weren’t well suited to feedlots and processors could not be underestimated.
“For producers battling tough seasons, the most important thing for them is that the market remains rock solid and there is genuine demand and competition for their cattle,” he said.
Indonesia was providing a solid market for lighter cattle while Vietnam was taking heavier animals.
Strong demand from South-East Asia saw more than 400,000 cattle exported in 2018 and Mr Warriner said the recent signing of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) was a confidence booster for the trade.
“IA-CEPA strengthens our cattle relationship with Indonesia, which remains our major market, and consolidates the long-term links from producers in the north through to feedlot workers in Indonesia and consumers of clean, green, affordable beef sourced from Australia cattle.”
The I-A CEPA includes a quota for 575,000 live male cattle (with nil in-quota tariff), growing by four per cent a year over five years to 700,000 head. Restrictions for female cattle exports will be also eliminated.