ON March 2 the Indonesian government confirmed that Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) had been found at a number of sites on the Indonesian island of Sumatra raising the stakes for its eventual spread eastward through the island nation to threaten northern Australia.
Obviously aware of the incursion and pending announcement by the Indonesian authorities, Australia's Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) issued an updated biosecurity alert on February 25 warning of the devastating impact if the disease arrived in Australia.
Australia's chief veterinary officer, Dr Mark Schipp, said the presence and likely further spread of the disease in our region meant the threat to Australia remained heightened.
Prominent north-Australian veterinarian and Indonesian resident Dr Ross Ainsworth went one better in a news article he released the day after the Indonesian announcement.
He said, "In my opinion this disease represents the most serious threat to the Australian cattle industry that I have seen since leaving veterinary school in 1975."
Dr Ainsworth provided two main reasons for his assessment.
Firstly he maintains that transmission by insects means that conventional quarantine, border controls and biosecurity are largely ineffective. With the island of Timor only 800km from the Australian mainland it is feasible that infected insects could travel across the ocean on the northeast monsoon.
Secondly, he asserts that vaccines developed to date are far from ideal.
DAWE's formal assessment is contained in Emergency Animal Disease Bulletin No. 121 and differs from Dr Ainsworth's assessment on likely mode of transmission.
It states that importation of commodities contaminated with LSD virus is the most likely route of entry into Australia.
Infected biting insects might arrive by way of shipping containers, however DAWE believes the risk of this pathway is low because virus survival on insect vectors is short.
On the matter of vaccines there seems to be agreement.
DAWE cites some success in effective control in southern Europe but acknowledges other areas where vaccination has been unsuccessful.
Importantly there is no LSD vaccine approved for use in Australia.
Should LSD get into Australia, failure to achieve successful control and eradication would have massive consequences.
Quite apart from production losses, the hit on live exports and meat processing would be severe if Australia was no longer recognised as being free from LSD.
In that context early detection is crucial because once established in northern Australia's extensive rangelands, LSD would be extremely difficult to bring under control.
February exports hit by COVID and extreme weather
THE woes that led to January's historical low beef export tonnage continued into February with the result that exports to all destinations for that month amounted to just 59,513 tonnes.
Normally most plants have returned from Christmas break and things are getting well into stride by February with export volumes generally in the 80-90,000t range and in exceptional years well over 100,000t.
Until now, last year was the lowest February in the past 10 years but this year's volume is down a further 11 per cent.
At the beginning of February, plants were still getting smashed with COVID-related absenteeism but by week two the labour issues were pretty much under control.
By week three, shifts were building numbers and where applicable second shifts were returning. Grid rates jumped by 20c/kg and buyers returned to saleyards.
But the turnaround was short-lived as the final week of February brought an unusual 'rain bomb' event to south east Queensland and with rainfall measured in metres, widespread damaging floods resulted.
The consequential effects of the flooding affected production and export in the last days of February and will continue to be felt well into March.
As well as direct damage to facilities, roads and rail were cut, meaning production could not be cleared from plants to Port of Brisbane. On top of that the port had to close because of silting and sunken objects that posed a threat to shipping. Powered sites for parking of refrigerated containers quickly filled.
Large and small markets alike were affected to a varying degree from February's lost production.
Japan took 16,232t, down 1600t on last year and noticeably well shy of the 22-24,000t seen regularly in February over the past 10 years.
Second largest market by volume, China, accounted for 11,531t, only marginally less than last year.
Korea, at 10,564t, was 1500t down on same month last year but a strong result in January has kept its year-to-date count within 3pc of last year.
At just 9025t for February, the United States market would appear to be heavily affected by lack of availability of lean-beef product due to shortage of cows in Australia's kill owing to the La Nina-induced herd rebuild.
But a same point-of-time comparison with the previous La Nina run of seasons (2010-2012) when herd rebuilding was similarly under way suggests there is a bit more to the US export perspective.
February 2012 saw a volume of 23,000t go to the US, very different to the current 9000t.
The difference is China, which in February 2012 took just 500t of Australian product.
It's probably fair to say that in the present tight supply circumstances the US market position is more affected by Chinese competition for available product than from supply shortage per se.
Processing and shipping getting back
WHILE not back to optimal levels processors are moving cattle and product through the system. Port of Brisbane reportedly got quite a number of containers out on the weekend.
Recent good rates have stimulated stock movement to the point that works are now reasonably placed and 10c/kg subsequently came off on Monday.
Four-tooth ox are now quoted at 820-825c/kg and heavy cow at 760-765.
In the US, Steiner reports that foodservice operators are especially concerned with rising inflation. Latest data puts headline inflation at 7.9pc, the highest in 40 years, and the concern is that consumers will cut back on restaurant meals.
For the moment imported 90CL in the US remains unchanged at US312c/lb FOB East Coast.