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Pandemic increases domestic demand for beef but slows exports

By Rodney Woods

As COVID-19 restrictions affect beef export opportunities, Australians are changing the way they purchase and consume the red meat, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

The MLA website says concerns about financial security, the impact of the virus on the economy and increasing pressure on household budgets have been the key drivers behind these changes, with domestic market retail value growth above 20 per cent for the 12 weeks leading up to April 19, with more than 130 000 new households purchasing beef.

While retail sales have increased, international restrictions have meant exports have declined during the past year.

According to MLA data, Australian beef meat exports in April totalled 92 476 tonnes swt (shipped weight), six per cent lower than the same time last year.

While, Australia's largest cattle export market, Indonesia, has been hit by significant social restrictions that have suppressed sales and dropped prices as demand is impacted.

For the calendar year-to-April, live exports to Indonesia were 144 000 head, down 22 per cent on the same time last year.

Despite this, it's not all bad news for our exporters with shipments to Australia’s second-largest cattle export market, Vietnam, up 55 per cent in the 12 months up to April, totalling 108 000 head.

This is due to Vietnam’s outbreak of African Swine Fever, which has impacted local meat supplies and is supporting demand for Australian cattle.

With China representing 24 per cent of Australia's exports in 2019, John Knapper, who farms Angus cattle at Molyullah, near Benalla, said China's ban on four abattoirs should be a wake-up call.

“I'm hoping what China is doing makes Australia realise that we have too much reliance on one area and we need to expand our export trade elsewhere,” Mr Knapper said.

“I think this will mean we might have excess meat domestically and (cattle) prices have been good for a while now and I'd hate for that to be spoilt and prices go down.”