"AUCTION is price discovery."
That is according to Nutrien Livestock State manager Leon Giglia - and he's not wrong - with more than $85 million worth of cattle selling through special sales in the State's saleyards in the past two months alone.
During the special sales selling series (excluding trade sales), unprecedented demand from lotfeeders, restockers and the Eastern States added fuel to the already red-hot market, which has shown no signs of slowing down.
In December and January price records were rewritten on a daily basis at Boyanup, Mt Barker and Muchea for special sales (female, weaner and store) where 40,560 cattle were sold.
Many producers thought the market was at its peak last season, but they were wrong as weaner and female prices were up more than 40 per cent and store prices were up more than 30pc this season.
And unless someone had a crystal ball, a price surge exceeding more than $500 a head on average for weaners this selling season, could not have been predicted.
To paint the picture - last season's weekly WALSA weaner sales at Boyanup averaged between $1300 and $1500 compared to $1901 and $2099 this season.
Steers have also helped steer - so to speak - the market upwards, making anywhere from $1426 to $2530 - or 432 cents a kilogram liveweight (LWT) and 818c/kg.
It is in stark contrast to the same sales last year, when producers banked $790 to $1869 (334-478c/kg).
Much the same can be said for heifers, this season they sold from $1359 to $2461 (420-674c/kg) compared to $698-$1835 (274-478c/kg).
The highest price jumped $626 from $1835 to $2461 (478-674c/kg).
In what could be described as a level selling field, the standalone weaner sales at Mt Barker also recorded the same average increase in price.
Nutrien Livestock started the new year with a bang when it hosted its special Angus weaner sale in January.
It is known as the State's biggest weaner sale, no surprise given buyers paid a remarkable $2101 (up $588) average for 2385 weaners sold.
A month prior, Elders also impressed when the average of its weaner show and sale jumped by $565.
In total - across the three selling venues - 29,804 weaners have been sold in designated weaner sales for an average of $1990.
And while weaner sales have been undeniably strong, breeder sales have proven even stronger.
This has highlighted the confidence producers have in the market moving forward and who could blame them?
During the special sale season this year, there have been 4046 mated and unmated beef and first-cross females sold for an average of $3950.
Compare it to last season's fixtures and it's top of the tree money with sale averages lifting between $317 and $1998.
Big bucks were spent at the mated first-cross sales in December, reflective in the fact a State record was broken at the Elders Boyanup Supreme Springing Heifer Sale.
Prices for these descriptions peaked at $4350 for Murray Grey-Friesian cross heifers, leaving vendors, agents and buyers stunned.
As did the record sale average of $3275 for the 729 heifers sold, which was up $500 on the previous year's sale.
Buyers didn't hold back at special unmated first-cross heifer sales either, offering anywhere between $1600 to $2950.
That is compared to $1040 and $2100 last season.
As seen in first-cross females, beef females also soared to extreme prices of $5100 for PTIC Angus second calvers.
These were sold as part of a herd reduction for RF & RE Walker, Coonac Angus, Wilga Livestock in the Nutrien Livestock special female sale at Boyanup in January.
And State records were well and truly made to be broken when PTIC heifers sold for $4700 at the Elders Boyanup Beef Female Sale.
Red Angus heifers sold by Treeton Lake, Cowaramup, claimed the crown from the previous $4100 record, which was established last season.
The Elders Boyanup Beef Female Sale also delivered the highest average for any female sale in the State this season with 366 PTIC heifers, PTIC cows and cow/calf units selling for an average of $4129.
It is almost hard to believe that in the corresponding sale just a year ago, Elders sold 457 mated and unmated heifers for an average of $2221.
Last but certainly not least, store cattle sales enjoyed a share in the sweet taste of selling series success.
Over the four store sales, which were hosted by both Elders and Nutrien Livestock, 5270-head sold for an average of $1897.
The sales were held across December to January and were for cattle of all descriptions ranging from Friesian poddies, right through to heavy beef steers.
Throw it back to 12 months ago and the average price at these sales was less than $1400.
Many factors have helped to drive prices and create the cattle market's "perfect storm" this season.
Another indicator of the market's strength and the power of the auction system, are Meat & Livestock Australia's (MLA) WA saleyard indicators.
In MLA's weekly statistics report - for the week ending January 25 - the Western Young Cattle Indicator (WYCI) was 1099c/kg carcase weight (CWT).
Meanwhile, the medium steer indicator reached 480c/kg liveweight and the medium cow indicator 333c/kg LWT.
At the same time last year, the WYCI sat at 848c/kg CWT, the medium steer 386c/kg LWT and the medium cow 263c/kg.
This means numbers were up 29.5pc, 24pc and 27pc respectively.
The real question is - how much higher can prices go?
And does anyone have that crystal ball?
If everyone thought prices peaked last year, it will be interesting to see what the next 12 months has in store.
MEAT & Livestock Australia (MLA) market analyst Ripley Atkinson said the Western Young Cattle Indicator (WYCI) hit peak supply with about 3500-head in December.
Mr Atkinson said feeders and restockers were competing quite heavily at that time, regardless of the increase in supply.
"A week ago, restockers were accounting for 52 per cent of the total yarding and then from Tuesday's (January 25) report, feeders had gone back to accounting for 67pc," Mr Atkinson said.
"That bounce around between restockers and feeders has painted a story of the good competition going on.
"The restockers were probably going hard early this year to get some numbers, but feeders have sort of reversed that trend.
"This has been something we have kept an eye on for the past 12 months and it does not look like it is going away with the domination of feeder buyers out of the WYCI eligible cattle."
Mr Atkinson added that even the premium between feeders and restockers had "really tightened".
"You look at the Eastern States and it has jumped out in some stages to 220c per kilogram carcase weight on average," he said.
"When you look at WA - restockers are only paying a 28c premium to feeder buyers, but the New South Wales equivalent is sometimes 10 times more than that."
ELDERS WA commercial livestock manager Michael Longford said "we've never seen the market this strong".
Mr Longford said saleyards had been the price setter, delivering the best competition he had seen this cattle selling series.
Among the bidding wars' biggest contenders have been lotfeeders, restockers and Eastern States' orders.
"From last year through to now, sellers have opted for the saleyards because of the high prices and competition," Mr Longford said.
"Everyone wants cattle."
To put it into perspective, the 2021 Elders beef female sale - which offered pregnancy tested in-calf heifers - averaged $2260 per head last year.
This year, the average almost doubled to $4219 a head.
So what's driving the market?
Mr Longford put it down to lack of supply, following a drop in breeding numbers and producers deciding to sell calves earlier than usual last year given the prices.
This has continued into 2022.
As a result, buyers were left chasing weaners as soon as they hit the market in November.
"There wasn't the usual number of cattle around last year and lotfeeders don't have the numbers they would normally have in their paddocks early," Mr Longford said.
"Lotfeeders are now very active at the sales to increase their numbers, so they can keep on feeding this coming year.
"They have been very aggressive with their buying and have been in the market for cattle between 320 kilograms and 500kg liveweight."
With huge demand and limited supply - is the market sustainable?
Mr Longford said it was for now, however it would be interesting to see what happened in May-July.
"Everyone is saying, 'where are the cattle going to come from?'
"We say that every year and they always seem to come out of the woodworks, but this year may be significantly different and significantly tighter."
Mr Longford anticipated spring would be an incredibly tight finish for cattle, given many producers had taken advantage of the "huge money" in the record breaking selling season
He said August to early October could be the toughest time for supply, particularly for the grainfed and grassfed seasons.
However, supply would recommence once weaner sales started again in November.
NUTRIEN Livestock State manager Leon Giglia said the power of auction was significant in providing a strong and competitive cattle market and allowing for far greater participation and competition.
"It is auction, auction, fullstop - it is the true price discovery platform in the current environment," Mr Giglia said.
"And that's not just within the traditional saleyards, it is also through AuctionsPlus.
"We have had the borders up in WA for the past 18 months, but they certainly haven't been up when it comes to livestock transactions.
"Our markets are far wider, there is a wider spread and connection than there has ever been before and auction has allowed it."
Mr Giglia said buyer numbers had gradually progressed over the past 18 months.
He said east coast participation had been particularly strong, whether in person or via technology.
"We have seen it before when the east coast hit and run, chipped in and then the WA participants increased their prices," he said.
"But there's none of that, it is simply a steady, stable market place with plenty of competition from near and far.
"We are yet to enter our bull selling season.
"But if we look at the ram selling season - we sold out of rams - so our breeding flocks have increased and people have gone about trying to increase production.
"I think we are seeing that in cattle and it will be determined this bull selling season."
Mr Giglia said there was genuine interest from cattle breeders to rebuild their herds, which he believed would follow through to next season.
He said there was nothing suggesting the market was about to suddenly decline.
"With the proposed weather forecast heading in the right direction and demand remaining strong for red meat, I would suggest this time next year we would be talking about very, very similar price levels in the market.
There may be some slight fluctuations, but overall prices should remain stable."
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