STRONG ongoing demand for commercial heifers in China has coincided with a shortage of breeding cattle in Australia to push prices for live export lightweight Hereford heifers to unheard of levels.
Exporters including Landmark International are offering $1300 for Hereford heifers, 200 to 400 kilograms, eight to 16 months sired by a registered Hereford bull.
Breeders say that compares to $550 for the same article this time last year. It is the best beef export price going at the moment and is the highest they've ever experienced.
Herefords Australia said many southern producers were opting to sell their heifers for the higher live export prices this year rather than sell at weaner sales.
That, in turn, has led to smaller heifer numbers in saleyards and premium prices for those that are sold through the yards to domestic buyers.
There are also smaller orders for Charolais, Angus, Simmental and dairy-cross heifers, but offers for those have not yet hit the heights of Herefords.
Breeders believe the Chinese have had good experiences with Herefords in recent years and the breed's ability to handle cooler conditions, combined with good temperament and eating quality, is making them sought-after.
Rabobank analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said the Chinese orders might not be greater than normal at the moment but combined with limited supply in Australia, live exporters are having to pay more and reach into areas they haven't before to access animals.
With widespread rain, breeders across the board are retaining females and there has been very strong domestic demand for heifers.
To meet Chinese protocols, the heifers have to be purchased on-farm and be from a Bluetongue-free zone.
Hundreds of head are now in quarantine awaiting shipment from Portland.
NSW Riverina breeder Marc Greening, Injemira, said it was a great news story for both Herefords and the beef industry.
Mr Greening has been coordinating suitable heifers on behalf of bull buying clients to enter these orders since November last year.
"A huge premium is being paid for heifers you don't need to retain as breeders - in the past lightweight heifers have been the hardest to sell but now they are the easiest," he said.
"Producers can get a price now that equals what they'd get for these heifers at heavier weights six months down the track if they carried them through winter. That's a fantastic opportunity for a premium for a purebred Hereford animal."
Elders agent Scott Altschwager said there was typically an added premium to live export cattle as there was more processing and handling work involved to get cattle to that market.
However, the current orders have relatively broad specifications, making it an easy target market for the breeder, he said.
The story China boat trade pushes lightweight Hereford heifers to $1300 first appeared on Farm Online.