Slowing meat production signals good price news for beef and sheep

Australia’s sheepmeat and beef producers are set to enjoy strong prices into 2019, supported by a growing global appetite for meat amid limited supply availability, Rabobank’s Global Animal Protein Outlook 2019 indicates.

However, the productive capacity of Australia’s beef herd and sheep flock will be limited by the heavy culling of female cattle and sheep seen in 2018, with any upside dependent on improved seasonal conditions in the year ahead.

Rabobank’s annual outlook for the animal proteins sector, titled Growth Slows Down, As Doubt Gears Up, forecasts a slowing in the pace of growth for meat production in most regions throughout the world next year.

Uncertainty is created by trade tensions, high feed prices and African swine fever contributing to the decline.

READ: More Queensland beef to be exported to Japan and South Korea

Global animal protein production, primarily beef, pork and poultry, is expected to expand by more than one million tonnes in 2019 – well below the five-year average growth rate – to some 500 million tonnes.

Production growth will slow across nearly all key regions, with China predicted to see a substantial production decline, driven by the impacts of African swine fever on its pork sector, the report said.

Brazil’s livestock production, however, is forecast to continue its strong growth trajectory, while the production outlook for North America is also relatively strong,

For Australia – where sheepmeat and beef production will decline, alongside New Zealand – the overall restrained global animal production outlook will provide some upside on the price front.

Good global prices will continue to support Australian prices for finished lambs and cattle in 2019, the report explains.

Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said strong global demand for sheepmeat and limited supply availability will support strong prices through 2019, with New Zealand – the world’s other major supplier of sheepmeat – set to have its lowest lamb kill on record in 2019.

“While further upside beyond record 2018 sheepmeat prices will be limited, prices will remain firm, given strong demand in key global markets such as the Middle East, China and the US,” he said.

Lamb production in Australia will remain restricted in 2019, impacted by higher sheep sales seen in 2018 due to dry weather conditions, said Gidley-Baird.

For Australia’s beef sector, the cattle inventory will remain very low following heavy de-stocking seen between 2013 and 2016, and then again in 2018, due to dry conditions that limited the availability of feed.

Cattle numbers will remain steady at the current low numbers until conditions improve, said Gidley-Baird.

“While limited supplies support cattle prices for producers, supply-chain efficiencies will be tested, with lower volumes available for feedlots and processing,” he said.

“Without substantial rain, 2019 will test many producers, given already-limited and expensive fodder supplies.”

Rabobank expects Australian beef production volumes to fall with lower slaughter numbers and, consequently, export volumes to decline slightly in 2019.

Dung beetles could help productivity in meat industry

Dung beetles are tipped to help the red meat industry become more productive and carbon neutral by 2030.

They’re already part of the sustainability recipe for one farming family with a diverse livestock enterprise.

Carly and Darren Noble run Jersey dairy cows, Merino, Dexter, Lowline and White Suffolk studs and a commercial Dexter herd producing boutique boxed beef on 80-hectare.

The high productivity is enabled by healthy soils and dung beetles, Meat and Livestock Australia explains.

READ: Australian beef exports have increased in key markets such as Japan and China

The Nobles aim to run 1.5 cows and five sheep/ha while maintaining year-round groundcover supported by good soil management.

They blend age-old farming techniques and a willingness to think outside the square in their biodynamic, organic system.

On any given day, the couple can be found spreading homemade compost on pastures, monitoring manure for beetle activity and rotating livestock through ‘biozones’ (grazing areas of barley, grass and natural woodlands to promote natural foraging patterns).

Carly uses soil tests and photos to document soil condition, a program she started in 2006 when only 60 per cent of their first farm had groundcover and topsoil was just 5cm deep.

“We targeted paddocks with lime, manure and compost, have increased groundcover to 90 per cent of the farm and built topsoil to 30cm,” she said.

The compost is created from livestock and chook manure and shredded straw.

Crops are turned into green manure with slashing, spreading and scarifying.

Earth banks have been built to control overland flow and avoid soil erosion, and the pair have planted hawthorn hedges, an old English farming practice to create shelterbelts for livestock and biodiversity benefits.

Carly manages soils and pastures to optimise livestock nutrition.

“We have 25–30 natural species of pasture or conservation flora, as well as legume crops such as chicory, peas and beans, which provides access to a diverse diet,” she said.

The Noble’s livestock aren’t the only ones benefiting from dietary diversity.

When Carly first noticed dung beetles on their farms in 2002, she recorded four different species and an average of five to seven holes and 21 beetles per pile, in around 75 per cent of manure.

Each hole led to a 40cm deep tunnel, made by the beetles to carry organic matter down (thus storing carbon in the soil) and bring deeper soil up to aerate the soil and free up compacted areas.

Carly has now established a system to ‘farm’ dung beetles to promote their activity across the farm and tap into the benefits of improved plant growth and carbon storage in soils.

She uses harrows to break-up soil, moves 2.5kg piles of fresh manure to these ploughed areas, then transfers dung beetles to these plots to begin the process of building underground filtration of soil.

She monitors manure early in the morning and in the evening, when dung beetles are most active, and has seen beetle behaviour change based on the season and livestock diet.

“When cattle and sheep grazed hay and vetch over summer, there were five to six holes in each manure pile, whereas in April and May, when animals also received seaweed and brewer’s mash, activity increased to seven to eight holes per manure paddy,” she said.

“In our most recent monitoring, we have dung beetles active in 82 per cent of manure piles and there are 11–12 larvae holes per paddy,” said Carly.

Anecdotally, Carly has observed a benefit to livestock health, with reduced parasite burdens.

She said livestock are also reaching weight targets earlier, for example, 14-month-old Dexter steers now weigh 350kg – a target previously achieved at 18 months.

MLA is leading a large and unique collaborative research project to rear existing and introduce two new strains of dung beetles across southern Australia and WA.

The project involves collaboration between MLA, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Charles Sturt University, University of Western Australia, University of New England, CSIRO, Landcare Research New Zealand, Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Dung Beetle Solutions Australia, and Warren Catchments Council, Leschenault Catchment Council and the Mingenew-Irwin Group.


Meat and Livestock Australia launches online platform about Australian meat production

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has launched a new online platform that provides consumers with an open and trusted source of information about the production of beef, sheep and goat meat in Australia.

The platform, Good Meat, demonstrates how Australian red meat is produced sustainably, in high welfare systems and is an important part of a healthy balanced diet.

Good Meat is also home to a range of educational resources including study guides, classroom posters, lesson and activity sheets, virtual farm visits, digital lessons and online board games.

MLA managing director Richard Norton said while the vast majority of consumers in metropolitan centres across Australia were confident in the practices of the red meat industry, Good Meat spoke directly to those who sought more information about production systems.

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“The consumer is king in our industry and we understand that community trust is integral to a sustainable and prosperous industry,” said Norton.

“Good Meat provides an engaging platform for red meat producers to share their story and demonstrate their commitment to best practice and continual improvement. It emphasises the high standards already in practice while reinforcing the industry’s on-going commitment to animal welfare and responsible environment management,” he said.

Recent research for MLA shows that about 1 in 5 meat eaters have a good understanding of the Australian beef and lamb industry and there are now almost 20 per cent fewer Australians from urban centres visiting cattle or sheep farms annually compared to eight years ago.

However, the same research reveals consumers’ appetite to learn more about food production, with more than 50 per cent interested in how Australian farmers produce beef and lamb.

“Good Meat is built on MLA’s consumer insights and data. It is a direct response to the increasing interest consumers have in the provenance of their food and how it is produced,” said Norton.

“Good Meat will also prove an important tool for those producers looking for resources to help share their story, promote what they do, build consumer confidence and challenge misconceptions,” he said.

Good Meat has been developed in consultation with the red meat industry.