IT is difficult to compare the outlook for the January 2021 weaner sales with its 2020 iteration as so much in the lead up has been different.
From late December 2019, bushfires were tearing through large swathes of the eastern seaboard, while drought still had its hold on many regions.
While the cattle market started a revival in late January, the eruption of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions and lockdowns in March weighed on markets.
But despite the pandemic, agents still believe there will be a lot more positivisty in the market come next year's sales.
Ray White Emms Mooney livestock agent Ben Emms, Blayney, NSW, is a regular buyer at the annual weaner sales, and he said the NSW Central Tablelands area had enjoyed a fantastic spring with producers now making hay and on the verge of harvesting.
"People have been able to put a lot of fodder away, it's been a fantastic year," Mr Emms said.
"Twelve months ago it was the worst it's ever been and now it's the best it's ever been."
He said the key to markets in the start of 2021 was what happened in Queensland.
"If the wet starts around Christmas then that will govern what the feedlots do, what the processors do and that will flow back through the weaner markets," he said.
"The biggest thing is Queensland getting a wet season, if a La Nina fails to materialise, it will put an entirely different spin on the market.
"The numbers out of Queensland rule the roost, if the La Nina does eventuate the market will rebound in the new year to a degree."
If the wet starts around Christmas then that will govern what the feedlots do, what the processors do and that will flow back through the weaner markets.
Mr Emms said he would have clients sourcing cattle to background.
He said a number of his producers who normally sold in their autumn weaner sales had reasonably depleted herds after the past few years.
"Some of those people who were opportunity weaner sellers will probably revert to holding onto calves and growing them on to heavier weights," he said.
"They have got grass and that will see fewer weaners come forward."
Strong long-time supporter of the weaner sales, Andrew Whan, Miller Whan & John, Mount Gambier, SA, said early in 2020 there was a bit of doom and gloom about, but the market then moved higher and just got dearer and dearer.
Mr Whan said his clients were mainly grass finishers and backgrounders.
"The cattle we bought are being sold and we will be looking to replace them at the weaner sales," he said.
He said weight will have a big impact, with the calves expected to be heavier.
"The people we buy for want to make a profit out of them too, so it will be interesting to see where it settles," he said.
He said the removal of travel restrictions was a positive.
Marc Greening, Injemira, Holbrook, NSW, said since May the season had been solid.
"There's been good winter growth and all our kill cattle are six weeks ahead of schedule and that has left feed in the paddock to restock," Mr Greening said.
He said he would be sourcing more cattle this weaner season with himself and two other clients looking for Hereford steers.
"I also have significant orders for Injemira-blood heifers from existing bull clients who are looking to rebuild their herds," he said.
"But I'm not hopeful I will be able to source the heifers I need because breeders are building numbers themselves and the live export demand for Hereford heifers has been phenomenal in the past 12 months."
Mr Greening said the calves purchased last January had mostly gone.
"We aim for a 280-310-kilogram carcase at 16 to 18 months with 8 millimetres of fat," he said.
"There are still areas to work on for certain lines of calves and that information has been given back to clients."
Nutrien Livestock south-east region livestock development manager Ron Rutledge said there was the capacity on the eastern seaboard to absorb the large numbers of calves.
Mr Rutledge said with prices easing slightly in the past few weeks, buyers could now see themselves actively participating.
"It's an equilibrium people can live with," he said.
"While the feeder and slaughter cattle prices have come back it gives people an opportunity to buy and sell in the same motion.
"The trade-in price for a bullock and a store animal means there is still a margin there."
He said the change this year was that in previous years the export trade had put a base price in the heifer market, but that was not the case this year and the price may have to be "rejigged a bit".
He said the weight of steer weaners would determine what people would be prepared to pay.
He didn't think there would be light calves around and the heavier the weights the more money needed to buy.
"There's not a lot of negativity out there," he said.
"The spring rough was six weeks later than normal, but people could have sold bullocks for $2000 to $2500 [a head] that are sitting pretty to restock, and with feed in the paddock.
"We anticipate northern NSW will have some demand, but it will be price dependent."
Nutrien Ag Solutions' Terry Ginnane said there was plenty of feed on the ground in Gippsland.
"We will be there to buy but not any more than normal," Mr Ginnane said.
"Some of our clients might just decide to hold cattle and put more weight on and then buy later on."