THERE is growing uncertainty among live cattle exporters about whether Indonesia will continue to be a sustainable market in the next 12-18 months.
Western Australian Livestock Exporters Association chairman John Cunnington, Halleen Australisian Livestock Traders business development officer, said with the price at $3.80 per kilogram for Indonesia it was difficult to see how the market wouldn't start looking for an alternative supply source, such as South America.
"I'm nervous about Indonesia," Mr Cunnington said.
"They are paying unsustainable prices at the moment and are just breaking even or operating at a loss."
Mr Cunnington said Vietnam was paying $3.60/kg.
He said demand for cattle was steady "if not a little lower" but "a lack of supply" was affecting prices.
Mr Cunnington said the loss of 500,000 head in the Queensland floods last year, many of which would have been sold into the export market, had affected the supply.
Demand from restockers in southern Queensland and New South Wales since the break in the drought has also affected the trade with many cattle that normally would have been exported, having been sold locally.
More than 60,000 head have been transferred from WA into the Eastern States - with buyers keen to purchase news of similar size and weight types.
"We tried to do a shipment out of Townsville recently and we couldn't source enough supply as the available cattle numbers are down," Mr Cunnington said.
"It is a serious concern for the further viability of the Indonesia trade.
"It will eventually force them to look for new supply opportunities, just as they did with Indian buffalo meat.
"We have been talking about it for years but they would have to try the South American market, especially when prices have been as high as they have been in the past 18 months.
"The South American market is the only one big enough to be able to provide the numbers and then it would be about shipping efficiency."
Mr Cunnington said the company was fortunate to have built a solid relationship with its market in Indonesia over the years, since COVID-19 restrictions have made it impossible to visit and discuss matters face-to-face.
"COVID hasn't stopped the ships," he said.
"We have been quick to adapt and overcome the issues, but it is hard to say where the market will go next.
"We have long-standing relationships wherein we are able to do a lot of work over the phone but nothing beats face-to-face meetings."
Mr Cunnington said the only thing the industry could do to manage its way through the situation was to "try to find niche markets to keep afloat".
"High value breeding jobs and/or new markets that will take smaller numbers," Mr Cunnington said, although COVID will disrupt going into new markets in the short-term.
"We'll have to batten down the hatches until we get through it," he said.
Last week Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen's Association chief executive officer Luke Simpkins said while mustering had come to an end in the north there were still some cattle in the yards around the regions and still the prospect of a few more ships out of Broome before the season was done.
"The Broome port is not completely done," Mr Simpkins said.
"They are still expecting as many as three ships before the season is over."
Mr Simpkins said Indonesia and Vietnam were the likely markets for those cattle.
WA cattle exports reached 170,945 head from January 1 to September 30.
In September, 1924 head of cattle were shipped to Vietnam, 3269 to Indonesia and 2061 to Malaysia, all from the Broome port.
Fremantle saw just 199 head shipped to Kuwait and 160 head to the United Arab Emirates.
October figures are expected to be released by the Department of Agriculture in the coming days but figures are expected to rise after a number of shipments in the past few weeks.
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