Cattle producers plan for processing disruptions

Shan Goodwin
By Shan Goodwin
Updated January 17 2022 - 2:11am, first published 1:30am
DELIVERED: There are no reports yet of cattle trucks being turned around, as processing capacity shrinks even further due to COVID cases among staff. But producers are planning for ongoing disruptions. IMAGE: NTCA

REDUCED processing capacity as the spread of Omicron keeps meat workers at home is not yet creating big headaches on farm but some producers are putting in place contingency plans.

Ample feed and water has provided a good buffer should cattle need to remain at home for longer than originally planned and the general across-the-board shortage of animals has also taken some of the sting out of the current processing dramas.

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However, consultants and agents have warned that now is not the time to make assumptions - communicating with processors is critical as even deliveries that have been locked in for some time may need to be adjusted as the worker shortage continues.

Some producers who typically market direct-to-abattoir at this time of year are now looking at moving stock to paddocks where growth rates can be slowed without affecting meat eating quality.

NSW consultant Alastair Rayner said careful management could help with preventing situations where cattle exceed grid specifications for weight or fat and drop back a category, losing premiums.

"January is typically a quiet period which means the issue isn't as critical as it might have been in six weeks time but producers still need to be proactive and have discussions with processors," Mr Rayner said.

"How long this situation will continue is unknown."

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There does not appear to be any reports of cattle in transit being turned back yet, as has been the case with lamb deliveries.

Lot feeders say they have received some warnings about possible pending delays but if they are required to hold cattle for additional short periods - a day or two - they have the flexibility to accommodate.

Agforce cattle president Will Wilson said most northern producers would have the capacity to hold cattle planned to be marketed now for an additional two to four weeks without issue.

Processing plants also had excess capacity to hold animals at the moment, given the general shortage of supply, he said.

"All in all the situation is not causing big problems to producers right now but there is concern about when, and how, it will be resolved," he said.

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Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

National Agriculture Writer - Beef

Shan Goodwin steers ACM’s national coverage of the beef industry. Shan has worked as a journalist for 30 years, the majority of that with agricultural publications. She spent many years as The Land’s North Coast reporter and has visited beef properties and stations throughout the country and overseas. She treats all breeds equally.

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