Higher export volumes were fueled by an increase in slaughter rates in February, with figure 1 showing a 37% increase in overall beef exports. Beef exports were down 11% compared to last year and, apart from January, it was the month with the lowest exports since the 90s.
At the destination level, it was China that reversed the lower trend. In February, only 1% less beef was exported to China compared to last year. China held the title of the second-largest market, surpassing South Korea and the US for at least a month. The 11,531 tonnes exported to China is however lower than the peak of over 30,000 tonnes seen in 2019.
Japan remained our largest beef export market, down 9% from last year, but still accounting for 27% of export volume (figure 2). As we know from the number of cattle on feed, there are still plenty of cattle going through feedlots, maintaining a supply of beef for export to Japan.
Beef exports to the US have rarely been less than 10,000 tonnes in the past 20 years, but in the past two years this has happened six times. The reduced amount of beef manufacturing comes with rebuilding a herd, with fewer cows being slaughtered to go to America for burgers.
It is interesting to see that exports to ‘other’ markets are still going strong at 5,835 tonnes in February. ‘Other’ markets are all those that take in less than 500 tonnes a month, but together they make up a significant portion of the market.
Japan, the US and Korea made up 87% of Australia’s beef exports in 2007. Those three countries accounted for just 60% of exports for the first two months of 2022. Diversification of markets is good for animal markets, and good for a time when cattle numbers recover and more beef is available.