THE online cattle and sheep market has risen from its knees in the grip of drought to record highs following replenishing rain during the past six months.
Holly Baker from AuctionsPlus said a unique combination of the lowest national livestock numbers in history, a wet start to 2020 fuelling restocking demand and a world-wide pandemic has seen prices skyrocket.
"Heading into FY21, the store market shows no signs of slowing as buyer confidence remains buoyed by follow up rain and a positive seasonal outlook," she said.
Cattle: From Extreme Lows to Exciting Highs
"The 2019-2020 financial year has taken the cattle market on a rollercoaster from extreme lows to exciting highs," Ms Baker said.
As the FY20 financial diaries have now been closed, the AuctionsPlus Market Insights team has delved into the data to track the cattle market while these unprecedented events unfolded.
Ms Baker said AuctionsPlus finished the financial year with 632,887 cattle listed online, an astonishing 62pc increase on FY19.
The first half of the financial year was undoubtedly affected by the drought with high destocking rates across the country. The prolonged dry conditions correlate with the regions that offered the most stock online, she said.
Between July and December 2019, the largest listing region was the Northern Tablelands (44,239 head), followed by the North West Slopes and Plains and southern Queensland.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reported that the rainfall deficiencies since early 2017 were most extreme in those regions.
"The outbreak of COVID-19 and a wet start to 2020, saw March and May as the two biggest months for 2019-20 with 98,962 and 94,914 cattle offered respectively," Ms Baker said.
Buying during this period was driven by restocking from regions that received above average rain at the start of 2020. Southern Qld, the North West Slopes and Plains and Central Western NSW dominated, accounting for 42pc of cattle bought.
"Cattle prices spiked soon after rain hit the gauges which drove the averages upwards for all stock categories. Not only was there a significant jump from FY19 to FY20, there was also a leap in prices from the last six months of 2019 to the first six months of 2020."
PTIC heifers soared in FY20, up $677 from FY19 to average $1743 and within a year climbed $568 from $1149 in December 2019 to $1717 in June 2020.
"Weaner and grown steers and heifers were also swept up in the increased restocking demand since January 2020," Ms Baker said.
Weaner steers averaged 468c/kg between Jan-Jun 2020 to raise the yearly average to 394c/kg, 100c/kg dearer than FY19.
Sheep and Lamb: A Tale of Two Seasons
Tom Rookyard from AuctionsPlus said the online sheep market followed a similar trend to the cattle markets.
"Since January 1, 2020, there was almost a light switch moment," he said.
"Widespread rainfall across NSW, Qld, and Victoria were extensive enough to cause what many have called 'grass fever' and steered the sheep market into uncharted territories."
During FY20 there was a huge increase of sheep offered online. At a national level there was 3,820,434 head offered, a 24pc increase on FY19," he said.
The major players listing sheep were the Central West and Riverina and the south west of Victoria, offering 673,000, 371,000 and 421,000 head, respectively.
Another significant contributing region was Western Australia, with the southern areas of the state offering 222,000 sheep on AuctionsPlus.
"As well as being a major seller of sheep, the Central West was also a major buyer, purchasing 18pc of sheep sold on the system, followed by the Riverina (16pc), south west Vic (9pc) and northern Vic (7pc)," he said.
"As growers struggled to find large lines of breeding ewes to restock, they looked westward. This saw 76pc (108,000) of sheep sold online from WA travel to buyers in NSW, Vic and SA."
With such widespread rain and the flock at a 116-year low, the perfect storm was created for a rise in prices, and he said buyers fell into two categories.
"The first being crossbred wether and mixed-sex lambs or Merino wether lambs to put into paddocks full of feed for a quick return; or purchasing joined or unjoined ewes for longer term endeavours," he said.
The average price for crossbred store lambs rose $11 (from $122 to $133) and scanned-in-lamb Merino ewes rose $43 (from $180 to $223). Comparing year on year prices, all stock categories have seen significant growth from FY19 to FY20.
"Year on year growth of various stock categories presents an insight into grower's longer-term plans," he said.
SIL first-cross Border Leicester/Merino ewes and SIL Merino ewes have increased 48pc and 51pc; while unjoined Border Leicester/Merino and Merino ewes have only grown 27pc and 36pc respectively
He said this illustrated the importance of having lambs on the ground in spring. Even more affordable categories such as Merino wether lambs recorded a year-on-year growth of 43pc.
"There is no clear signal that the market will take much of a backwards step while the country continues to restock and rebuild flocks," he said.
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