Victoria's average weekly cattle yarding for store and prime sales has dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade, underpinned by favourable seasonal conditions and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
Low yardings in Victoria are not uncommon during this time of year, but fresh data shows numbers across most classes are significantly down on the 10-year trend.
Cattle volumes through store and prime sales were 27 per cent down week-on-week, while yardings are down 47pc on the five-year average.
At Ballarat, agents have opted to move to fortnightly prime sales due to dwindling numbers and on Monday yarded only 140 head.
"In previous years we've never gone fortnightly with our prime sales," TB White & Sons director Leo White said.
"The market has been very steady for prime cattle for the last three or four months ... but they are becoming hard to source, as are store cattle."
Mr White said a driving factor for the reduction in cattle was on the back of strong feeder prices earlier in the year when cattle, particularly spring-drop calves, were forwarded more than six months' in advance.
An analysis by Thomas Elder Markets shows the average weekly yarding between late February and early April rose to 14,500 head.
It was well above the five-year trend of 10,500 cattle for the same time period and up 70pc from 8500 head in 2019.
"Going forward I can't see the numbers building up in the short-term but you would think in late September/November we'll see some good prime cattle come out of NSW," Mr White said.
Mr White said store sale numbers would remain at 2000 head for Ballarat through until December with prime sale volumes to grow to 300-400 head between October and December, but well down on previous years.
TEM manager of commodity market insights Matt Dalgleish said anecdotal evidence also suggested Victorian producers were also holding off selling their cattle due to the coronavirus crisis.
"Yardings can be low during winter in the south but these are significantly lower numbers than we would normally see," Mr Dalgleish said.
"The season has been below average because of tight supply but in the last few weeks, it has been lower than what we've seen previously so it appears at least in Victoria producers are waiting to see what the price disruption is to the processing sector."
But any potential tightening of supply come spring will be short-lived, according to South West Victorian Livestock Exchange Stock Agents Association president Anthony Mahony.
"Fundamentally, numbers will be strong," he said.
"Store cattle numbers have been very strong but our weekly prime sales were strong as well up until the last three or four weeks.
"I quite often hear there might be a shortage of cattle but even though those spring-drop cattle might have already been sold, supply will still be strong."
In south Gippsland, Nutrien Leongatha livestock manager Brian McCormack said store and prime sale yardings were above average because farmers were selling from further afield, including east Gippsland.
"Any cattle that are being held over now are not because of coronavirus but because we're likely to have a good spring so we expect more cattle to be offered from late September through to December," he said.
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