WINTON agent Tom Brodie was kind enough to spend some time last week bringing me up to date on seasonal circumstances facing that extensive part of the state and the news is not good.
The bottom line as he sees it is that it is going to be a pretty tough year unless something out of the ordinary happens between now and the end of November.
It is going to be a pretty tough year unless something out of the ordinary happens between now and the end of November.
A property he visited that day had only 4 inches (100mm) for the summer and only a little in the way of patchy storm rain since.
Tom said that to look at the country you would wonder what the stock are living on but surprisingly over a wide area they are still in very good order.
Being a light year and the quality of the feed being such as it is, what winter rain there has been has not done much damage to the feed. But numbers are right back and that is making the difference.
From his observations Tom thought few people would be running above 60pc of normal stocking rates and most would be in the 40-60pc range. However as is the case in a patchy sort of year, some areas are better than others.
The best of it seemed to be south of Julia Creek and Richmond and reports from above the line indicated a better season there in places to the point that some rebuilding of herd numbers was taking place
Toward Boulia however the season has been very light and is deteriorating to the point that stock including heifers that might have been held as replacements are now being sold off in numbers.
The dilemma as Tom described it is that many people could probably hold out until October but are worried about what happens then if a break does not come.
While September/October rain can happen, the probability looks low and in the meantime cattle prices offer money in the hand that is literally too good to refuse.
Cows in good order are returning $1000-1200 from the meatworks and a 400kg feeder steer is worth $1200-1300.
Despite the slowdown in live exports, lighter Brahman type feeders are still around the 300c/kg mark for steers and 275c for heifers at Cloncurry.
While there is good money about now, what worries Tom is that come October/November they may not be able to rely on the strength in the market down below the border that has served them so well in the last few years.
He said, “Speaking to buyer and agent contacts south of the border and further down into western NSW, while they have had a couple of good years and built some numbers they are now having to cut into those whereas this time last year they just kept finding paddocks to put them into.”
“If there are a lot of southern cattle hitting the market down there, where are cattle up here going to go?”
Another factor that would normally be a welcome blessing is the high pregnancy rates being achieved this year.
Tom said that rates were low last year due to the dry years when the breeders were struggling.
However when the cattle were joined in the early part of this year they were carrying the benefits from last year’s winter rain and this resulted in a pretty good pregnancy rate.
But the way things are now shaping up he probably would have liked to see less in calf this year because without a break they will really struggle towards the end of the year.
Storms are the key to the problem and even if they occurred now Tom believes it would work for them because the country is very warm.
The Winton area for July is 3-4 degrees above the long term average and it would only need an inch and a half to get some response. If that happened, with everyone so lightly stocked they would go from selling to hanging on once again.
Supply bucks flow trend
IN MLA’s weekly slaughter report there is a graphical representation of the current year against the two prior years. What it shows is that while there was a big difference in average weekly kills between 2015 and 2016, the pattern of supply was strikingly similar.
From the June public holiday, the lines trend down through the third quarter then pick up sharply around October and remain there until the seasonal closures at Christmas.
The big difference with the 2017 line is that since mid-May it has shown no real inclination to head south. July and August are regarded as the two hardest months for supply in the processing calendar and this year the cattle are rolling in.
In part this can be explained by processors putting significant numbers on feed four months ago to help cover the anticipated supply drop and in consequence the kill at present is a bit top heavy with grainfeds. But it is also the case that anyone with cattle in reasonable condition wants to let them go.
One major processor I spoke to commented that space bookings often get halved between booking and delivery but not so at the present time. This is despite prices coming off to the point that indicator four-tooth ox are now below 500c/kg, a level not seen since April/May 2016.
This week’s southern Queensland quote is 490c with heavy cow at 425. Kill space for the remainder of August appears fully booked and the numbers look set to continue into September.
MLA put last week’s eastern states kill at 132,218 head, the 13th week in a row in the mid 130k band.