Community & Business

21 November, 2023

Cattle prices drop but meat remains the same

CATTLE producers have welcomed calls for a national inquiry into beef prices as they struggle to make any money this year whilst consumers continue to pay top dollar for meat in supermarkets.

By Ellie Fink

Cattle prices drop but meat remains the same - feature photo

Saleyards have recorded a drop of up to 60% in prices over the last 12 months, with reports some graziers have even started shooting cattle because it is not worth continuing to keep the animals.

Last week, Shadow Agriculture Minister David Littleproud called on Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to do an urgent investigation into supermarket meat prices.

Mr Littleproud revealed that while the producer’s payment for cattle has fallen from $10.21 per kilo to just $3.65 per kilo over the past year, people are paying around $36 per kilo for grass-fed rump steak and $19 a kilo for beef mince.

Karma Waters station owner Alan Pedersen, who has been in the cattle game for almost his whole life, has described the situation as ludicrous and frustrating.

This year, he has struggled to sell his cattle coming off the back of an unusually wet monsoon season, and the cattle he has sold haven’t returned a profit.

“It’s frustrating for us to be getting around $1.25 (per kg) at the sale yards. That is an absolute kick in the guts to start, but when the supermarkets and butchers are selling that product off for whatever it is, it is price gouging,” Mr Pedersen said.

“I know it costs around $300 a head to process the beef, and those costs don’t change (like the price of cattle), so your middlemen are basically your processes and your supermarkets and butchers.

“That part of the food chain is where the money is being made, and to purchase cattle at a third of the price of what they were buying it at and still selling it at their prices… they can do the figures, but that is a 200% increase in profit.”

Coles and Woolworths recently reported record profits of $1.1 billion and $1.62 billion respectively – an outcome Mr Pedersen said was “disturbing”.

“They are allowed to push the farmers and graziers into the ground and price gouge the guts out of you as the consumer at the same time,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be that bad if those prices were cut in half, which would then increase the volume of beef that we could get through, and people would be able to enjoy decent Australian grass-fed beef for a reasonable price.

“That way, instead of eating beef once or twice a week, they can have it three or four times a week, and that will certainly help lift the price of cattle up because the consumption and demand will be up.”

For Queensland Rural cattle specialist Ken Weldon, the disparity in prices has made it significantly harder for salesmen to make any profits this year.

Weather, cost of living and disease have made it difficult to sell cattle for the whole year, with prices at the Mareeba sales yard dropping to as low as $250/head on average this year.

“It’s definitely not profitable for farmers or anybody in the industry currently,” Mr Weldon said.

“The price of cattle isn’t as low as they were in (1974), but we didn’t have the fuel costs and the labour, and the man’s wages were 60 bucks a week. There is a lot more cost now, so we are probably worse off.

“I think the only thing that is going to give us any relief is having a widespread wet season and probably a bit more change in overseas markets because live exports are really hard these days because of lumpy skin disease – just another hurdle we have to jump over.”

Welcoming calls for an urgent inquiry by the ACCC, Mr Weldon hopes something will be done before the industry falls down at the feet of the cattlemen.

“Someone has to do something because, at the end of the day, it is the middleman who is making a fortune … and we are the price takers,” he said.

“So long as they look into it and try to get a base rate where the deal becomes a bit fairer, that is all we need, but I don’t think that will happen, not in this government.”


Most Popular