It was a tale of two seasons for sheep purchasing online last financial year, new data from AuctionsPlus has shown.
AuctionsPlus operations manager Tom Rookyard said the story of the first half of the financial year revolved around the tightening of the drought and widespread bushfires in the eastern states.
However, Mr Rookyard said as of January 1 this year, there was "almost a light switch moment" after widespread rainfall in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
"Downpours were extensive enough to cause what many have called 'grass fever' and steered the sheep market into uncharted territories," he said.
He said the financial year saw a "huge" increase of sheep offered online - 3,820,434 head nationally, up 24 per cent on the previous financial year.
"The major players listing sheep were the Central West and Riverina regions of NSW, and the south-west of Victoria, offering 673,000, 371,000 and 421,000 head, respectively," he said.
"Another significant contributing region was WA, with the southern areas of the state offering 222,000 sheep online on AuctionsPlus."
He said as well as being a major seller of sheep, Central West NSW was also a major buyer, purchasing 18pc of the sheep sold on the system, followed by the NSW Riverina at 16pc, south-west Victoria at 9pc and northern Victoria at 7pc.
"As growers struggled to find large lines of breeding ewes to restock paddocks, they looked westward," he said.
"This saw 108,000 or 76pc of sheep sold online from WA travel east to buyers in NSW, Victoria and South Australia."
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Mr Rookyard said with widespread rain and the national sheep flock at a 116-year low, the "perfect storm" was created for a rise in prices.
"As 2020 opened, the market began to feel the full effects of a country looking for sheep," he said.
He said buyers fell into two categories of purchasing.
"The first being crossbred wether and mixed-sex lambs or Merino wether lambs to put into paddocks full of feed for a quick return, or purchasing joined or unjoined ewes for longer-term endeavours," he said.
"The average price paid for crossbred store lambs rose $11 [a head] from $122 to $133, and scanned-in-lamb (SIL) Merino ewes rose $43 from $180 to $223."
Comparing year-on-year prices, he said all stock categories saw significant growth from the 2018/19 financial year to 2019/20.
"Year-on-year growth of various stock categories presents an insight into growers' longer-term plans," he said.
"SIL first-cross Border Leicester/Merino ewes and SIL Merino ewes have increased 48pc and 51pc, while unjoined Border Leicester/Merino and Merino ewes have only grown 27pc and 36pc respectively, illustrating the importance of having lambs on the ground come spring," he said.
"Even more affordable categories such as Merino wether lambs have seen strong interest, seeing a year-on-year growth of 43pc, highlighting the general demand for sheep."
Mr Rookyard said since the initial spike in early 2020, there had not been a major market retraction.
"Store sheep prices have held firm across the last few months of 2019/20, as grower confidence remains high," he said.
"Looking forward, there is no clear signal that the market will take much of a backwards step while the country continues to restock and rebuild flocks."
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