Coronavirus crisis: Uncertainty clouds red meat outlook

Zach RelphCountryman
The COVID-19 crisis’ impact on the red meat sector is unknown.
Camera IconThe COVID-19 crisis’ impact on the red meat sector is unknown. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

Robert Herrmann’s aptly named What a Time to be in the Red Meat Industry speech was set to focus on the glowing, positive outlook for Australia’s red meat sector.

The Mecardo founder planned to talk about the terrific 12 months ahead for the nation’s primary producers in his address, scheduled to be held in the small Victorian town of Hamilton last Wednesday night.

Rain had finally fallen at farms in the drought-stricken Eastern States, cattle prices were at record highs, sheep demand was soaring, and wool was growing in strength.

However, he was forced to revise his notes after the coronavirus hit and clouded everything with uncertainty.

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“COVID-19 is an unknown unknown,” Mr Herrmann said.

“It seems like 2020 has been going for three years, but the reality is we are only a quarter of the way into it.”

The seminar was broadcast as a webinar online to Mecardo subscribers instead of being held as an event at Hamilton, following social distancing restrictions, with about 50 people tuning in from across Australia.

Mr Herrmann reassured delegates that cattle prices, sheepmeat demand and wool’s fundamentals were strong as concern about the coronavirus mounted.

He said although factors driving Australia’s red meat sector — including African swine fever tearing through Asia’s pig population — had taken a back seat to COVID-19, they remained important.

“Everyone is talking about COVID-19, but there are other factors that remain and will have influence on the markets in the future for red meat,” Mr Herrmann said.

“I make the note that we are talking about red meat — not beef, lamb or mutton — (because) the fact is all red meat produced in Australia will be impacted.”

Mr Herrmann labelled ASF, the declining national flock and increasing female cattle slaughter rates’ impact on the meat market as the “known unknowns”.

But, his message was blunt: the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic had thrown everything into limbo.

“In relation to COVID-19, there is simply no way anyone can accurately take in all of the variables that exist right now and predict with any certainty as to what is ahead,” he said.

“But, what we can do is outline all of the issues and describe what impact they will have on red meat in the future.

“The best thing we can do is continually follow the changing scene we are presented with and re-assess as things become clearer.”

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