GOVERNMENT economists have updated their modelling to put the costs of a multi-state foot and mouth disease outbreak in Australia at a whopping $80 billion.
Livestock market experts at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences have warned it is essential that governments and the industry are prepared to combat incursions of either foot and mouth or lumpy skin.
Cattle Council of Australia president Markus Rathsmann agreed, saying the arising disease threats highlight just how important it is for the government to commit to a permanent, sustainable funding stream for biosecurity.
Both diseases have the potential to cripple Australia's beef and sheep meat sectors and are spreading fast in Indonesia.
Mr Rathsmann, in his organisation's 2022 yearbook, described the global march of lumpy skin towards Australia as 'the biggest threat the livestock industry has faced in decades.'
He said Australia's best chance of preventing an outbreak at home was to work with Indonesian authorities to help them bring their outbreak under control and slow the spread of the disease.
Along with the looming biosecurity threats, the latest ABARES forecasts identify labour shortages as a key challenge for the livestock game.
The lack of workers would have an even bigger impact if commodity prices fall, economists warn.
"Into the future, the livestock industry will need to develop or access a reliable workforce or look to innovative cost-saving solutions to maximise competitiveness," ABARES' June quarter outlook report said.
"Input costs for the sector are high, but so are output prices for meat, wool and dairy. The industry needs to make sure it can still operate competitively if output prices fall in the future."
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Falling saleyard prices
ABARES expects average saleyard prices of cattle and sheep to fall in 2022/23 due to an easing of herd and flock rebuilding.
The drops will be contained by global red meat prices remaining high due to increasing demand and tight supply, economists say.
"Ongoing rainfall from a late-finishing La Nina gave graziers in eastern Australia the confidence to continue rebuilding their beef herds," ABARES livestock forecast report said.
"This is expected to continue with a negative Indian Ocean Dipole providing rainfall into spring. However, the frenetic buying of the past 18 months is slowing.
"Prices are still at historical highs for preferred cattle, but less-preferred cattle are selling at an increasing discount. This suggests that demand is still strong, but graziers can now afford to be more selective about what cattle they buy.
"Furthermore, herd rebuilding has meant that graziers are likely to find it easier to build their own herds, rather than having to buy cattle in."
Mr Rathsmann said the record-breaking prices had been uncharted territory for the beef industry.
"While the high cattle prices are welcome for those lucky enough to have cattle to sell, understandably there is little comfort for those producers who now have to pay double to restock their properties," he said.