As Covid-19 restrictions brought a halt to interstate movements for Australians throughout 2020, the sheep and lamb trade accelerated, as restocker demand from NSW fueled a significant jump in sheep crossing state borders. In 2020, AuctionsPlus sales data revealed 1,535,241 head were traded interstate, 45% of total offerings and 475,862 head above the previous year.
Centered around a significantly better 2020 season in NSW and Victoria, robust restocker demand and favourable prices attracted sheep from the surrounding states, even WA. Accentuating the NSW centric demand, local NSW sale numbers fell 10% on last year, while interstate sales from NSW declined 63%, as producers retained numbers to commence the rebuilding drought depleted flocks.
In contrast, as Victorian and South Australian local transactions increased at a consistent rate, their interstate sales for the year nearly doubled. However, one of the standout features of 2020 was the meteoric rise of the Western Australian market on AuctionsPlus, jumping from 37,000 head in 2019 to 238,000 head in 2020. In contrast to the improved seasonal conditions in eastern states throughout 2020, the main sheep producing regions of WA registered a very tough year – with many WA producers most likely relieved to be able to sell drought impacted stock into a higher eastern states market.
Sheep traded in Queensland through AuctionsPlus during 2020 hit a five-year high, with the local buyer market purchasing approximately one-third of offerings. As South Australian and Victorian buyers took a back foot, NSW buyers snapped up an extra 7% of the market share this year. Contributing to the increased Queensland offerings in 2020 was the tough seasonal conditions through traditional sheep producing regions.
New South Wales
New South Wales sheep producers took numbers from anywhere and everywhere it could in 2020, commanding either the highest, or second highest share in the market of all states except for Tasmania. Having been hit hard by drought in 2018 and 2019, NSW producers faced strong competition to find stock locally to rebuild, driving buying activity into the other states. For 2020, NSW purchased 987,141 head from other states, compared to 393,503 in 2019 – albeit with last year’s numbers influenced by drought selling in NSW.
Victoria saw a significant number of head trucked north into New South Wales throughout the year, with just under half the head offered crossing the Murray River. Despite the local share of the market falling, the number of head that were purchased and stayed in Victoria increased from 353,000 head in 2019, to 420,000 head in 2020 - although this was overshadowed by the number sent to NSW that rose from 191,000 head in 2019, to 445,000 head in 2020. The number of sheep that were taken in by Victoria from other states remained steady from the smaller flock state of Queensland and Tasmania, but more than doubled from South Australia and increased nine-fold out of Western Australia. Given the seasonal contrast in 2020, only 110,000 head entered Victoria from NSW, down from the 332,000 in 2019.
South Australia had a significant increase in the number of head sold through AuctionsPlus in 2020, at 748,000 head - up from 415,000 head in 2019. While total offerings increased more than 330,000 head in 2020, only 70,000 head of the additional numbers were sold to South Australian producers, leaving New South Wales and Victoria to increase the number of head bought by 131% and 122% respectively. Interestingly, while Queensland might have only accounted for 2% of the sheep sold in South Australia last year, the number of head that were bought by Queensland producers increased by five-fold in 2020.
WA Sheep numbers on AuctionsPlus in 2020 jumped 538% from the previous year, to 238,389 head. Given such a large increase, both local WA purchases and interstate numbers increased significantly, with local market growing from 4,694 head to 48,810 head, as interstate purchases over the same period increased from 32,629 head, to 189,579 head. Given the size of the WA sheep flock, at an estimated 14 million head – this market has the potential to develop as a serious competitor with the New South Wales, South Australian and Victorian markets on AuctionsPlus, taking the obvious logistical issues into account. While seasonal conditions attributed to the sharp jump in 2020, the AuctionsPlus platform easily enabled WA producers to display their wares to buyers in the east, especially when supplies were very tight and prices historically high.
Given the geographic nature of the Tasmanian market, numbers offered through AuctionsPlus have remained very consistent over the past eight years - both in terms of numbers and the destination for stock. The major limiting factor for interstate movement of stock from Tasmania is the transport cost, with the stock remaining mostly local or confined to Australia’s south east. In 2020, 62,066 were offered, with only 18,377 heading to the mainland.