CONCERNS came to a head last week about the accuracy of one of the most important reports generated by MLA, the weekly slaughter figures.
One major processor who has religiously supplied screen dumps from their production system to MLA to ensure their figures were accurate was dismayed when it emerged that MLA often has to chase after other contributors and sometimes be told “haven’t got this week’s figures, just use whatever we told you last week”.
Two weeks ago this procedural shortcoming appears to have resulted in several versions of the weekly slaughter report.
The first amended version had the Queensland cattle kill at 70,255 head.
Then it changed to 66,083 which report users including myself had no knowledge of as this version appears not to have been distributed.
The processor said that when he challenged MLA on the accuracy of the latest version he was told that it may not be accurate either.
That was it as far as he was concerned.
There is no question as to the importance of the slaughter report and the need to have it is a given.
If that was the level of integrity in one of the most important pieces of market intelligence produced by MLA then he wanted no part of it.
His company has withdrawn from supplying figures and two weeks have now passed without a slaughter report.
Regrettably in that two week period the processor said that no one from MLA has approached him to discuss how it might be possible to restore integrity into the process of collecting data and getting the report published once again.
Another major processor I spoke to this week said there was no question as to the importance of the slaughter report and the need to have it was a given.
His company is continuing to supply MLA with their figures and he has been involved in some discussion as to the possibility of NLIS being used to validate the numbers.
For his part he did not believe there was any intent on the part of any contributors to intentionally mislead but that was not to say that mistakes have not occurred.
In what has emerged in the last week it seems the process of collecting kill figures has drifted considerably from how it was originally set up in Queensland in the 1980s by the Queensland Livestock and Meat Authority.
Then, information from domestic abattoirs was provided by the state meat inspection service and figures from export abattoirs were supplied by AQIS.
While there is no longer a state meat inspection service, there is a quality manager in all domestic establishments and it would be part of that person’s role to have exact details of the kill.
In export sheds there is still an AQIS vet on site and an AQIS meat standards officer at the end of the chain.
Therefore the question has to be asked as to why slaughter data cannot be supplied to MLA as a matter of course by the QA manager in domestic and AQIS in export establishments first thing Monday morning instead of MLA having to chase after it.
Hopefully the matter can be resolved as this is too important a report to be lost.
September beef exports plummet
LATEST figures from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) put September beef exports to all destinations at 87,902 tonnes, a drop of 11,000t on the previous month.
Seasonally, it is usual for exports to dip in the third quarter but this year has defied trend with July maintaining second quarter volume at 93,000t and August recording the highest monthly total for the year thus far at almost 99,000t.
Of the total 11,000t fall, the biggest slice is in the Japanese market where volume fell by almost 6000 tonnes.
The only other time this year we have seen such a dramatic drop in the Japanese market was in April when volume fell by 8000t on the month before.
However that 8000t was a much smaller proportion of the overall fall in beef exports at that time which amounted to 24,000t.
Cyclone Debbie and public holidays were the culprits back then for the drop in kill but numbers and tonnage returned in May.
April problems aside, the run through from March to August this year was a sustained six-month resurgence for Australian exporters in the Japanese market with volumes in the 26,000-29,000t range.
Same period 12 months earlier the tonnage ranged from 23,000-24,000t.
The undoing of Australia’s run of increased trade was the increasing ability of US exporters to compete on price. The September drop emphasizes how difficult it has become for Australia in this high-value end of the global market. At the other end of the spectrum in the lean beef trade, the 5000t drop in supply to the US indicates there is not a lot of joy for Australian exporters in this destination either.
Latest information from Steiner Consulting is that imported Australian 90 CL blended cow, which had been trading at a substantial discount to US domestic lean, is now almost on par at around US217c/lb.
But the problem in reaching that balance is that it has been more a case of US domestic coming down in price rather than the import price going up.
However that may be changing as Steiner also reports availability of US domestic lean is becoming quite limited due to robust retail and food service demand.
If they are right that end users may now be starting to look more actively for imported product it might just provide a glimmer of hope on this side of the Pacific.
In the meantime rain has raised expectations of higher over-the-hooks rates but as one processor said to me this week why would we want to add to the losses?
Instead, 10c/kg came off the feeder rate in the south while indicator four-tooth ox remains at 490c/kg and heavy cow at 430.