Raising the steaks: Bull market means $325,000 record more than Justified

Spring in Queensland brings out the bull – literally the best in bovine genetics that will collectively fetch millions over the next three months to beef up the national herd.

Sep 03, 2020, updated Sep 03, 2020
Australia's highest priced bull, Grey Brahman NCC Justified, which sold for $325,000 in 2017. (Photo: Kent Ward)

Australia's highest priced bull, Grey Brahman NCC Justified, which sold for $325,000 in 2017. (Photo: Kent Ward)

And according to the experts, not even COVID-19 is expected to stifle buyer confidence in a buoyant market.

Queensland still holds the record for the highest-priced stud bull sold at auction in Australia. Three years ago, a three-year-old Grey Brahman bull by the name of Justified sold to Cloncurry cattleman Rodger Jefferis for $325,000, thrusting his breeder Brett Nobbs, of the NCC stud near Rockhampton, into the headlines and the record books.

The hefty price tag heads a string of big investments that stud cattle breeders and commercial beef producers have paid for stud animals in recent years.

Five of Australia’s top ten priced stud bulls at auction have been sold in Queensland: two more Grey Brahmans for $300,000 and $240,000; a Wagyu bull for $185,000 and a Droughtmaster bull for $180,000.

It’s no quirky coincidence of history that Queensland records the big money. It’s simply a numbers game where everything in relation to beef in the beef state is bigger – the herd size, the volumes of beef cattle turned off for slaughter or sent on boats for live export and the stud cattle inventory that services the industry to maintain genetic integrity in the calves that come forward each season.

Tender, great-tasting beef delivered to consumers at a consistent quality and affordable price point is no accident. It takes meticulous management amid all the challenges encountered by farmers – weather, water, wild dogs, pests and diseases – but it all starts with the genetics.

Virile bulls that can thrive in the Queensland elements, get females into calf and produce calves that will grow well and yield a profit at the end of their life cycle are highly valued.

It’s why sometimes, certain bulls with renowned bloodlines are referred to as ‘herd improvers’. And there’s many a cattle buyer who will tell you that no bull is ever expensive if they inject genuine value into your business. Justified indeed.

Big season ahead

As beef producers all over the country scan the catalogues for the hundreds of livestock auctions held across Queensland over the next three months, the question at the beginning of the traditional spring selling season invariably turns to what the outlook may hold and whether those record prices may be in danger.

So far, the signs are strong this season could be a cracker.

First, prices for cattle generally have been high all year, mainly due to simple supply and demand where drought has impacted numbers and producers have been looking to rebuild herds that were once downsized to cope with the lack of water.

While two-thirds of the State still remains in drought, there have been some above-average falls this year across inland pasture zones, which continues to propel the market.

Promising long-range forecasts of a La Nina weather pattern this summer, indicating a wet cycle for the eastern states, is only intensifying the buying interest.

Droughtmaster Australia chief executive Simon Gleeson has been watching the sales results from NSW, where sales start earlier than Queensland, with interest.

He says the trend is encouraging, although the barometer that has him most excited is the outcome from Western Australia’s Fitzroy Crossing bull sale held late last month.

Regarded as WA’s richest sale, the catalogue boasts cattle from mainly Queensland studs, who had to truck in their sale drafts amid people movement and border restrictions, obstacles that originally put the fixture in doubt.

Taking almost $1 million in sales and attracting bids from interests that included billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Harvest Road Group and Gina Rinehart’s Liveringa Beef Company, the event exceeded expectations.

The 44 head of Droughtmasters sold averaged $7272 for each lot, just behind the Grey Brahmans at $7500.

“The result from WA and another recent sale in southeast Queensland called the High Country sale has provided a very clear indication of the positive trend we think sales will head towards this year,” Gleeson said.

“The Droughtmaster is a very versatile breed and it attracts interest from a wide array of buyers from different locations and that’s only been enhanced this year by the amount of online selling we’ve had to do because of COVID.”

Senior cattle marketing agent Paul Holm says early sales have produced strong clearance rates, suggesting demand is strong, with buyers also responding well to the new environment where in many cases they are bidding on bulls via a computer terminal rather than seeing them physically in a sale ring.

The Elders Queensland/Northern Territory livestock manager says vendors have migrated to the online marketing medium quickly, which has helped in a year when other marketing channels such as cattle shows and carcase competitions have been cancelled.

“It’s definitely required a new way of thinking and a new approach,” Holm says. “They’ve certainly had to do more to engage their buyers than just putting ads in a newspaper.”

Colby Ede, the southern Queensland livestock manager for Nutrien Ag Solutions, says current trends suggest vendors could see an increase of up to $3000 on sale averages this year compared to those recorded last year when drought had a stranglehold on buyer optimism.

“I think it relates to the prices producers are getting out of their commercial stock at the moment and there’s no doubt demand for those top-end genetics to improve their herds has really sharpened,” Ede said.

“The season is progressing with real confidence. Whatever seems to get thrown our way at the moment we just keep re-adapting.

“I’d say we’ve seen 30 per cent growth in online marketing and activity compared to last year. Our pre-sale preparations have certainly been busier than ever.”

Rabobank beef analyst Angus Gidley-Baird agreed prices would likely be higher this year, bolstered by the capacity of buyers to find the ready cash for the best genetics.

“Farm management deposits give us an indication of what money may be on hand and for beef in Queensland at the end of June it’s sitting at $519 million, which is higher than at any other point last year,” he said.

“This also gives some confidence that producers have money they can tap into to fund their purchases.”

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