Australia’s red meat exports surge as US beef production falls

Australia’s red meat exports rocketed last year as a plunge in livestock prices made its products more competitive at a time when beef production in rival exporter the United States is falling.

Shipments accelerated as the year went on, pushing exports of sheep meat to a record high and beef exports to their highest since 2019, trade data showed.

Australia is one of the world’s biggest shippers of red meat. Its exports are likely to be even larger in 2024 thanks to low U.S. beef output and strong Chinese demand, said Matt Dalgleish at agricultural consultants Episode 3.

Australian cattle and sheep prices plummeted to multi-year lows last year as dry weather triggered a sell-off by farmers worried they wouldn’t have enough grass to feed animals, many of which were sent to slaughter.

In the United States, meanwhile, drought has shrunk the cattle herd to its smallest since 1951 and beef prices have risen sharply.

Australia exported 607,878 tons of sheep and goat meat last year, up from 478,350 tons in 2022, and 1.18 million tons of fresh and frozen beef, up from 926,576 tons the year before, trade data accessed through Trade Data Monitor show.

The sheep meat exports were worth $3.1 billion, down from 2022’s record high of $3.4 billion due to lower prices.

The beef exports were worth $7.6 billion, the most ever recorded.

For sheep meat, the biggest driver of the increase in exports was China, which took 204,446 tons from Australia last year, the most on record.

Shipments of beef increased to China, South Korea and the United States, three out of four of Australia’s main export markets for the meat.

Rainfall in recent months has greened pastures and led to a partial recovery in livestock prices, but Australian red meat remains competitive, Dalgleish said.

Last year also saw a slight uptick in exports of live sheep and cattle from Australia, though levels remained far below past highs.