THE latest ALFA/MLA survey of Australian feedlot activity for the September 1999 quarter shows just more than 550,000 head of cattle on feed at September 30. ALFA president Robin Hart said the survey figures reflect normal seasonal trends in southern states, with the number of cattle fed for domestic markets down 9.4 per cent (a drop of nearly 19,400) on the previous (June) quarter. Relative to the same quarter last year, however, domestic numbers are approximately 19pc higher (up about 30,000 head). Mr Hart said feeding cattle for the Japanese market appeared to have remained strong throughout the September quarter on the back of much improved export prices for this segment. While the number of cattle being fed for Japan fell to just less than 350,000 (reflecting the overall seasonal fall), 63pc of all feedlot cattle were destined for this market at the end of September, compared with 61pc last quarter. Mr Hart said the stronger Japanese market showing underscored the continued importance of Japan to the Australian industry. "Continuing light supply, improved retail demand in Japan and lower grain prices make the immediate prospects for this market look quite good," he said. Mr Hart said the "interesting quarterly increase" of nearly 4000 head destined for Korea reflected the number of recent tenders for the Korean market with varying delivery dates through to May 2000, a development which made it more attractive for feedlots to feed cattle specifically for this market. Other September quarter survey results showed: putilisation (numbers of cattle on feed as a percentage of feedlot capacity) was 63pc (down 6pc on the June quarter but 10pc higher than September 1998); and pthere were nearly 100,000 (approximately 22pc) more cattle on feed in Australia at September 30, 1999, than at the end of September 1998. "Cattle on feed in the December quarter and into 2000 will no doubt be affected by the continued buoyant prices for feeder cattle," Mr Hart said. "However, higher feeder cattle prices may be somewhat offset by lower prices for the larger than expected quantities of lower quality grain caused by unseasonable wet weather over the grain belts in eastern Australia. "Feedlot operators feeding for this market need to be careful, however, not to buy grain which is too significantly affected in quality or low in energy value as this can adversely effect meat quality. "Provided the lower foreign exchange rates continue, the feedlot sector should remain strong in the foreseeable future."