Beef Cattle

  • arrow-up Output $2,490 million est. Down 9% yoy.
  • Prices increased strongly as herd rebuilding commenced in earnest.
  • Very high farmgate prices, lower export prices and reduced slaughter placed significant pressure on processors margins.
Farmgate prices improved significantly over 2020-21 as widespread rain finally triggered a herd rebuild. The female slaughter ratio, which had remained stubbornly above 50% at the end of 2019-20 and remained high in the first quarter of the current year, fell dramatically in the last 3 quarters of the year, reaching a low of 41% in the third quarter. 20 With the national and state herds at lows not seen for many decades 18 it was inevitable that farmgate prices for females and restocker steers would respond once seasonal conditions improved. However, the extent of the price rises took most by surprise.

Southern Multi Breed (SMB) project

A $7.3 million research program will allow the State’s beef producers to, for the first time, measure genetic value across different cattle breeds.

The project will develop a ‘universal language’ for producers to compare and then select the best traits between Angus, Herefords, Shorthorns, Wagyus, Charolais and Brahman cattle.

The project is jointly funded by the NSW Government through the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), University of New England, AU, the Commonwealth Government and Meat & Livestock Australia.

Find out more
back arrow
forward arrow

Meat and plant science showcased at livestock forum

The path to a carbon neutral future, environmental sustainability and profit for the red meat and livestock industries was the focus at a forum in Wagga in July. NSW Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) livestock, soil and pasture research was showcased as part of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation’s Livestock Forum held on 30 July in Wagga. The Forum is a great opportunity for NSW DPI, Charles Sturt University and industry experts to showcase beef and sheep research that can be applied on-farm to benefit the red meat industry. The Australian red meat and livestock industry has set the ambitious target to be Carbon Neutral by 2030.
Media Release
back arrow
forward arrow


With the female slaughter ratio falling and producers retaining as much livestock as they could, production fell significantly. Numbers slaughtered in NSW fell 34% year on year with male slaughter down 22% and female slaughter down 44%. 20 With average slaughter weights up 6% as producers held onto to stock as long as possible to maximize weight gain, production fell slightly less, down 23% to 398 thousand tonnes. 20 Total production in NSW was lower than at any time since the 1980’s. With significantly lower production, record high farmgate prices and lower export prices, processor margins came under significant pressure. Whilst margins across the processing sector will vary significantly, industry sources 14 and the Thomas Elders Markets’ processor model 193 estimated that losses were exceeding $350 per head by the end of the year.
Cattle standing in a field

Thomas Elders Markets estimated processor margin ($/Head)

  • Processor margin
Source: TEM (2021)

Australian and NSW Cattle Herd Size

  • Australia (LHS)
  • NSW (RHS)
Source: ABARES (2021)


During 2020-21 producers received some of the highest prices in history. Overall average volume weighted prices (for slaughter ready stock) rose by an estimated 19% during the year. With significantly reduced supply, farmgate prices continued the sharp rises which started in mid 2019-20 especially for store cattle. Whereas in 2019-20 young restocker steers led the price rises, as producer confidence in better seasonal conditions grew, producers increasingly focused on herd rebuilding and prices for cows with calves and pregnancy tested in calf (PTIC) cows rose strongly. 40 By the end of the year price records were being broken in virtually all beef categories.

Even in inflation adjusted terms prices reached levels not seen since the 1960s and 1970s. 198

Cattle in a yard

Australian beef farmgate annual price changes 2020-21

  • Year end price rise
  • Average 2020-21 price rise vs 2019-20
Source: AUCTIONS PLUS (2021) , MLA (2021)

Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) - nominal vs inflation adjusted (cents/kg cwt)

  • Nominal EYCI
  • Inflation adjusted EYCI
Source: TEM (2021)


NSW beef export prices

Source: GTA (2021)
Lower supply meant NSW beef exports were lower in 2020-21. The value of NSW exports by fell 26% to $1.5 billion and by volume fell 25% to 172 thousand tonnes. 128 Average export prices which had been rising until July 2020 also fell for 8 consecutive months which placed further pressure on processors given the high farmgate prices being paid. 128 Export prices did start to increase again towards the end of the year however, average export prices were down 1.9% during the year. 128

With lower supply, exports to all our major markets fell, however trade tensions with China did appear to have some impact with exports to China falling more than overall exports, down 33.4% 128 despite African Swine Fever continuing to create significant excess protein demand. China remained NSW’s biggest beef export destination however, China’s share of total exports fell from 36% to 33%. The impact of lower Chinese demand was more significant on total Australian exports, where exports to China fell 47% and share of total exports fell from 25% to 18%, dropping from the largest export market in 2019-20 to third largest. Whilst lower supply and higher prices have had some impact. China is now sourcing a greater share of beef from the United States, Argentina and Brazil and is also diversifying to other countries. 60

Chinese beef imports by source country (tonnes)

  • US
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Argentina
  • NZ
  • Uruguay
  • RoW
Source: COMTRADE (2021)


Since the end of 2020-21 farmgate prices have rallied even further as the seasonal outlook has continued to improve. For processors, lot feeders, cattle traders and any breeders who are not fully stocked, margins are very tight or nonexistent. However, with the national herd at 35-year lows and the seasonal outlook remaining positive, farmgate prices are likely to remain elevated for the foreseeable future. With the most expensive farmgate prices in the world there are some competitive challenges emerging for Australian beef. Domestically, retail prices for beef have risen 26% since December 2018 compared to 11% for lamb and only 3% for chicken. 151 Beef is now 33% more expensive than lamb and 337% more expensive than chicken. 151

Internationally our high beef prices are decreasing our competitive position in key markets and the on-going trade dispute with China also has the potential to limit our access to the biggest beef importing market in the world. China’s pork herd is also rebuilding and once this rebuild gains traction, international demand for all red meats is expected to decline. Despite these challenges however, global demand for beef remains strong, especially for premium beef which Australia is well placed to supply. Despite the progress China is making in rebuilding their pork herd, for the time being African Swine Fever is creating a large global protein deficit and this is also supporting demand for red meat. Currently beef supply is struggling to meet international demand. Most major beef exporting countries are experiencing some supply challenges. Argentina has imposed periodic export controls to help control internal inflation. Other South American suppliers, including Brazil, have been selling females to meet Chinese demand which will have implications for their ability to meet future demand. Persistently dry conditions in the US have resulted in the US herd declining which will increase supply in the short term but will reduce competition when Australia’s own herd rebuild gains traction. These factors mean the Australian cattle industry remains well placed to supply a growing global appetite for premium beef.

Comparison of Australian retail prices of beef, lamb and chicken

  • Dec '18
  • Jun '21
Source: MLA (2021)