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Australia lifts beef export forecast as El Nino bites

Australia's ABARES agency now expects the country's meat producers to export 20 per cent more beef this year than the agency forecast in June. (

Sydney | Reuters — Australia raised its forecast for beef exports by 20 per cent on Tuesday as drought conditions worsened by an El Nino weather pattern force farmers in the world’s third-largest exporter to maintain near-record slaughter rates.

Beef exports are expected to total 1.225 million tonnes in the crop year to July 1, 2016, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture, Resource Economics and Rural Sciences (ABARES) said, up from its June forecast of 1.02 million tonnes.

The increased exports will help alleviate supply concerns in the U.S., which imported record amounts of Australian red meat in 2014-15 after seven years of consecutive falls in the size of the U.S. herd.

The stronger exports will be driven by higher slaughter rates in Queensland, the country’s largest producing state, ABARES said, offsetting a slowdown in culling rates across the rest of the country.

Queensland is expected to bear the brunt of the dry weather associated with an El Nino that is predicted to peak by the end of 2015.

Farmers in Queensland have been plagued by drought for more than two years, which has wilted pasture and dried-up dams forcing graziers to cull animals at record levels.

While many Australian beef farmers are feeling the burden of an El Nino, ABARES raised its estimate for other key agricultural commodities.

Sugar production was put at five million tonnes, up two per cent from its earlier estimate.

Increased production from the world’s third-largest exporter of raw sugar is likely to add further pressure on global prices, which fell to more than seven-year lows in August.

Australia also raised its forecast for milk production to 9.8 million litres, an increase of more than two per cent from its previous estimate in June.

The increased milk production is welcome news for Australia’s dairy producers — particularly the country’s largest, Murray Goulburn, and its recently listed MG Unit Trust, which has sought to encourage more milk production to capitalize on Chinese demand.

ABARES lifted its wheat export forecast by 6.5 per cent to 17.53 million tones after last week raising its production estimate due to timely rains.

Colin Packham is a commodities correspondent for Reuters in Sydney, Australia.

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