Beef processors strive to provide year-round supply

24 Mar, 2004 10:00 PM
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THE WA beef processing sector would need to provide forward contracts and competitive prices to gain a year-round supply of cattle.

But this would be no easy task in WA's Mediterranean-style climate, where beef production has traditionally revolved around spring pastures.

Harvey Beef conducted a tour of WA to drum up extra cattle supply in the off-season and last week the Agriculture Department held a year-round beef supply information day at the Jurien Bay community centre.

The aim of the workshop was to discuss how farmers could supply markets throughout the year, with a particular focus on nutrition management.

Speakers addressed year-round supply opportunities, alternative pastures, beef specifications, beef production economics, supplementary feeding, calving time and genetics.

Beermullah beef producer Phillip Barrett-Lennard said that above all, producers would require the right amount of money and forward contracts to produce cattle year-round.

"Forward contracts need to be worked up in this industry," he said.

Market analyst Wim Burggraaf said the average feedlot utilisation in WA was 54pc and in 2002 the average abattoir utilisation had been 69pc, with a low of 54pc in May and high of 94pc in October.

WA cattle prices were about 10-20c/kg less than in eastern Australia, which had access to higher value markets.

He said there was also a big gap between WA's top and bottom producers, while tariffs and unfavourable exchange rates were outside producers' control.

WA was one of the better performing states in terms of profitability.

Senior researcher Brian McIntyre said producers could lose money by not meeting carcase specifications, which could be minimised by weighing and estimating dressing percentages.

He gave an example of where 108 cattle were outside carcase weight and fat thickness specifications, which led to a 4.5pc loss where all cattle met specifications.

Mr McIntyre said if profit was assumed at 20pc after deducting feed costs, the 4.5pc would have amounted to 22.6pc of total profit.

Harvey Beef feedlot services manager John Berkefeld said the company had signed year-long contracts with its 600 employees.

This would save inefficiencies in employing and training new staff each year and also showed its commitment to killing year-round.

"That should generate 10-15c/kg back into the market," he said.

Last year, the plant processed 153,000 head of cattle, with the goal to process 200,000 this year and 230,000 next year.

Harvey Beef quotes live weight or weight and grade prices.

Mr Berkefeld said the company had spent $18m on the plant in the past two years and would spend a similar amount over the next two years to improve plant efficiencies.

³South America is putting beef into our markets 25-30pc cheaper than we can,² he said.

Harvey Beef had 26,000 head of its own cattle and was looking at various arrangements with producers to spread cattle turn-off.

Senior research officer Geoff Tudor said feeding energy supplements would improve growth rates but supplements should only be used when there is a shortage of feed or a deficiency in the diet.

He said on average, half of the feed eaten is used to maintain an animal's weight, and water quality and availability was a critical part of the animal¹s diet. Restricting water would inhibit feed intake.

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