Live export cattle prices slide as Indonesia ramps up imports of boxed meat

Live export prices to Indonesia are falling, with feeder steers shipped from Darwin fetching around $2.60 a kilogram compared to a peak of $5.50 a kilogram in 2022.

It means a 350kg steer which was worth around $1,900 in March last year is now valued at just over $900.

The price has not been this low since the sudden price slump in 2020 triggered by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Garry Riggs from Lakefield Station in the Northern Territory, said he put together a consignment of “blemish-free cattle”, only to be offered $2.60 a kilo, which for him was not enough and he put them back in the paddock.

“I just told my agent we’re going to bush these cattle and try again next year when hopefully everything settles down,” he said.

“If someone had offered me $3 a kilo I would have sold those cattle, but at $2.60 a kilo I just wasn’t willing to do it.”

Mr Riggs said the low prices and uncertainty of where to send cattle was “like being back in the live export ban [of 2011]”. 

“We’ve got good quality cattle and some of them are getting blocked because of a skin blemish or scratch,” he said.

“It’s just ridiculous and it’s going to be very challenging for a lot of people.”

Lack of demand for live cattle

Indonesia’s request for imported Australian cattle to be free of skin blemishes may have started because of genuine concerns around lumpy skin disease, but it remains in place despite Australia not having the disease. 

Would this policy exist if Indonesia’s demand for Australian cattle was stronger?

The live export trade appears to be facing increased competition from boxed meat imports.

Data from Meat and Livestock Australia shows year to date, Indonesia has imported 52,000 tonnes of beef from Australia, which is up 76 per cent year-on-year.

There is also increasing amounts of cheaper, frozen Indian buffalo meat entering the Indonesian market, with expectations India will export more than 100,000 tonnes this year.

Ships heading east

ABC Landline has been told a lot of exporters are now looking to source cattle via the Townsville Port where the cattle are cheaper than the Northern Territory — around $2.20 to $2.40 a kilogram.

In the north of Western Australia, Kimberley cattle producer David Stoate said there are not many shipments on the horizon.

“I’ve got cattle that I’m hoping to get on a boat before the wet season starts, but there’s limited opportunities from the Kimberley,” he said.

“The trade to Indonesia is open, it’s just slower than normal and it’s very challenging.”

He said the risk of bushfires ahead of the wet season is adding a lot of stress to producers who have been forced to hold onto cattle.