October 1, 2013
Christmas is rapidly approaching and before you know it the selling season will be over. To say that the year has been disappointing may be something of an understatement. Prices for cattle, sheep and lambs gradually spiralled downward as the season progressed. We have been spoiled in recent times with astronomical lamb and mutton prices, and beef returns have been consistently high. Some of these prices were the result of the prolonged drought of the 2000s but most conservatively stocked cockies reapt the rewards, so the prices gained in 2012 were a reality check – especially for some younger producers who had become used to incomes from their stock that could not be sustained. So here’s a wishlist for Santa to consider delivering while we have a break over the festive season: The obvious one is a price rise, but this may be just a little too difficult, even for someone with Santa’s undoubted abilities. He may have more success rectifying some of the underlying problems that led to the low prices. For example, he could engineer a way for the $A to ease back to a position that gives our exporters a better-than-even chance of competing with other nations on the world meat market. Free-trade agreements may well be the salvation of Australian business. The political will of both sides of politics appears to favour this course of action and in theory it makes good economic sense. But if we are not on the proverbial ‘level playing field’ our competitive advantage with high-quality, clean – green product is diminished. If you doubt that things have deteriorated so much, bear these statistics in mind: this week at Dublin the average price for the 3400 ewes yarded was $31, while 262 wethers returned a paltry $31.36. The 6423 crossbred and Merino lambs sold at generally dearer rates but still averaged only $68.21. The cattle job is not faring much better: 191 steers at Dublin averaged $606.37, with 134 heifers an appalling $463.81, while cows sold to stronger demand to average $552.49. The need for some Christmas-wish fulfilment is now pretty obvious. Many grain farmers have had their presents early, with prices lifting substantially above last year, so now we livestock aficionados would like our turn.