Live cattle exports are pegged to plummet to 500,000 head this year — nearly 272,000 fewer than in 2021. Meat and Livestock Australia’s June Cattle Industry Projections included a revised forecast of live export numbers for 2022, down 33 per cent from its February projections, which set the figure at 772,000 head — the same amount shipped last year. It comes after Australia’s live cattle trade recorded the slowest start to the year for more than a decade, with just 164,107 head, or about about half the 10-year average, exported in the first quarter of 2022. According to the report, the downturn was the result of several developments in recent months months affecting supply and demand. “The herd rebuild has been under way in the north as it has nationally, however, the recent northern wet season has been relatively poor,” the report stated. “In the Northern Territory, the 2021–2022 wet season began early but also finished early, with overall rainfall eight per cent below the 1961–1990 average and mean maximum temperatures above average for most areas.” Meanwhile, record high cattle prices have seen big numbers sold and moved south, with producers tempted to sell weaners early, particularly in the north-west NT, which had a “less favourable season”. “These factors are expected to reduce the numbers of feeder cattle available for live export for the rest of 2022,” the report stated. Another factor was the dramatically declining number of slaughter cattle being sent to Vietnam, once a major market for Australian cattle. Vietnam imported just 5250 head of Australian cattle in the first quarter of the year — a staggering 91 per cent fewer than the five-year average of about 60,000 head — according to data from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. In 2021, total live exports to Vietnam almost halved year-on-year. The report outlined two significant factors weighing on cattle exports to Vietnam. “The first is improved conditions in Queensland following good rainfall, which has encouraged producers and re-stockers to hang on to their cattle for longer and as a result, caused a further tightening in cattle supply available for live export,” the report stated. “The second factor is weak import demand from Vietnam, with a surplus of cattle and other proteins in the market. “This weak import demand has been exacerbated by continued border closures with China and reduced purchasing power of wet market shoppers due to rising inflation.” Steep prices and a recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Indonesia — Australia’s biggest live cattle export market with nearly 60 per cent of the market share — were also leading to fewer exports, Thomas Elder Markets analyst Matt Dalgleish said. “Part of that’s been a cost aspect because our prices are so high domestically, but more recently within Indonesia, we’re also seeing a bit of a slowdown in the amount of cattle coming in,” he said. “They’ve got fairly pressing issues with FMD, so in the last month or so there’s been a reluctance to take cattle from an Indonesian feedlot perspective.” While Australia’s live cattle industry had experienced “extremely challenging” trading conditions since the onset of COVID two years ago, MLA said the recent fall in the Australian dollar was a positive for exporters. Live cattle exports were expected to strengthen in 2023 and 2024, reaching 640,000 head. Australia exported 771,931 head of cattle last year, down from 1,048,751 in 2020, 1,303,929 in 2019, 1,126,379 in 2018 and 867,056 in 2017.