AS northern mustering shifts into full swing, live cattle export suppliers are conscious uncertainty courtesy of the pandemic is likely to remain a strong influence on demand.
Volatile prices and the knowledge that social distancing measures is severely suppressing beef sales in South East Asia has given way to a cautious sentiment among northern producers.
However, there is optimism in the fact the fundamentals are still strong for increased beef consumption in the long term in markets like Indonesia and Vietnam.
Following record March prices that peaked at $3.85 a kilogram, live-ex quotes dramatically dipped to $2.40/kg at the end of April and have now edged back up to over the $3 mark.
The lead-in to Eid at the end of this month - the breaking of the fast of Ramadan - is expected to provide some indication of just how much Indonesian demand has been suppressed.
Industry leaders say producers have never before monitored so closely market conditions and the importance of working with trading partners during this period can not be understated.
Chief executive officer of the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen's Association Emma White said live-ex turnoff was expected to be lower this year while herd rebuilding happened.
The first vessels departing Wyndham and Broome went in April, much later than last year when the turn-off was greater due to ongoing dry season conditions, she said.
"There is concern but not panic," she said.
"There is an understanding of the change in patterns in demand due to food service shutdowns and of the affordability issue with Australian cattle but there is not a sense the trade is being heavily impacted in terms of logistical disruptions."
The start of mustering in March was affected by lockdowns but turn-off is happening smoothly now, producers say.
Agforce's Will Wilson said COVID-19 had brought with it a number of regulatory challenges across northern Australia.
"As we bed down things, discussions concerning market conditions are becoming increasingly important," he said.
"Monitoring short to medium-term demand across south east Asia is vital for cattle producers and exporters to make decisions about what to do next.
"This is not only to underpin food security of our trading partners but also to assure animal welfare outcomes across the supply chain."
The drop in the live-ex market provided only fleeting opportunities for Queensland restockers with grass chasing good value on Brahmans in the 250 to 320kg range.
Elders livestock manager northern zone Paul Holm said most Queensland producers with feed look to be holding cattle and putting more weight on them rather than offloading and buying in lighter steers to carry through winter.
Pushing a bit more cash flow into the next financial year was one aim but the lack of options to buy-in was a big factor, agents said.
On the other side, some producers are also now reporting that because the rain was late, and therefore it was a short growing season, they don't actually have as much feed as they thought they might.
Where sale cattle are ready, getting the money in the bank and removing risk of exposure to what 'might happen' is an attractive option.
Bush Agribusiness' Ian McLean said matching stocking rates to carrying capacity was always critical at this time of year.
Producers were calculating what feed they had, what stock and whether they could carry everything to next summer if the season was not co-operative, he said.
"If not, it is important to develop a plan now to reduce the chance of being caught out coming out of winter with not enough feed," Mr McLean said.