SUPERB winter feed and the prospect of ongoing good rain is driving demand for cattle through the roof. That is clashing with a depleted herd to send the market further into record territory.
The benchmark Eastern Young Cattle Indicator set a new record twice in the past week and is currently sitting at 911 cents a kilogram carcase weight, just above the 910c record it reached in late April.
It has jumped 13c over the week, a remarkable feat given it has been lingering in very high territory anyway, nudging at the $9 barrier for the past six weeks.
Meat & Livestock Australia analyst Stuart Bull said other indicators, including vealer steers and processor yearling steers, also broke records in the past week.
"While it's the same story of demand outstripping supply, no one expected new cattle market records at this time of year," he said.
"It speaks to the sustained confidence in beef."
Mr Bull said analysts were now softening predictions of a correction as restocker pressure eases later in the year, with the global demand for Australian beef largely behind that.
The return to more normal food service activity as COVID vaccinations roll out, combined with supply shortages in key beef exporting nations, would further assist, he said.
"So while it's local seasonal conditions driving the market, the positive global situation is also underpinning the upward pressure - everything has lined up," Mr Bull said.
"NSW scored very nice rain across the board which has likely contributed strongly to this latest uptick. It's very good timing considering crop planting."
Agents from Queensland to Victoria said it was simply the fact there was plenty of feed and not enough mouths that was keeping the market high, and until that changed there was little to suggest the EYCI would come off the boil.
"There's hardly a beast to be seen in country as good as you'd ever see it," NSW agent Shad Bailey, Colin Say and Co at Glen Innes, said.
"The numbers just aren't there and that is putting pressure on all categories of the market.
"Restockers are going heavier, feedlotters are coming lighter to source numbers and Victorian processors are venturing north looking for supply. It's caused a storm in our physical market.
"There's a lot of confidence within the whole beef sector. People can see there is great demand for our product both domestically and overseas."
There was, however, concern given the extremes of the current market, he said.
"Weaners at $1700 and $1800 is unknown territory. We probably don't want to see it get any stronger. We don't want to see anyone get hurt," he said.
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Rockhampton agent Brian Dawson said the small amount of rain that had fallen in his region would probably not change much - it was simply restockers and feeders up against each other that was pushing the market up.
Northern NSW agent Tom Oakes, CL Squires at Inverell, said the rush to stock oat crops was adding extra fuel to the already-hot demand.
With the south running very short on feeders, southern lot feeders were extra buyers in northern markets now too, he said.
"Traditionally, a lot of stock get to weight from August onwards so we might see a bit of a wave of supply come on, especially with people wanting to take advantage of the good prices," he said.
"But it won't be anything like over-supply. Demand will soak it up quickly."
Such is the extent to which restockers are calling the shots that even the shutting down of the country's largest processor for the best part of a week has had little effect on the market.
Mecardo analyst Adrian Ladaniwskyi said the only real impact of the JBS cyber attack on the market was that yardings fell around 10 per cent, likely due to sellers feeling a bit nervous about how much volume would be required and holding back for another week.
Lot feeders are only an inch behind restockers in terms of buyer makeup of EYCI cattle and for the first time ever, feedlot cattle made up more than 50pc of beef production in the first quarter of 2021, MLA reported.
Furthermore, the majority of beef consumed domestically for the quarter was grain-fed.