Australian beef sector forecast

Thursday, 18 February 2021

After contracting for two years, the national cattle herd is expected to increase by 2% to 25.2 million head in 2021 as it enters a rebuild phase, in analysis published by Meat and Livestock Australia. This rebuild comes after Australian cattle numbers fell to their lowest level in two decades in 2020 following prolonged severe drought.


Australian cattle Industry projections:

  • 2021 Slaughter: 6.9 million head
  • Carcase weights: 301.3 kg/head
  • Production: 2.1 million tonnes (cwe)
  • Beef exports: 1.1 million tonnes (shipped weight)


Cattle supply is expected to tighten in 2021, as producers retain more breeding stock to rebuild their herds, leading slaughter levels fall further. Cattle slaughter is expected to fall 3% to 6.9 million head.

Feed availability and the growing size of the feedlot sector, with over 1 million head currently on feed, will contribute to rising carcase weights, in 2021 these are predicted to rise by 9.3kg/head to a record 301.3kg/head. Higher finished cattle prices may also encourage producers to add more weight.

Beef production is forecast to be 2.1 million tonnes, similar to levels recorded in 2020 but well below production during 2018 and 2019, when large-scale destocking took place.

Exports are expected to increase by 2% to 1.1 million tonnes, and MLA’s analysts expect global GDP to grow by 5% in 2021, supporting a recovery in the demand for beef.

Image of staff member Duncan Wyatt

Duncan Wyatt

Lead Analyst - Red Meat

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