Australian cattle farmers set for drought-relieving rains

SYDNEY Tue Jan 28, 2014 10:54pm EST

SYDNEY Jan 29 (Reuters) - Australian cattle farmers will receive much-needed rains in the next two days, forecasters said on Wednesday, offering some relief to ranchers struggling to keep animals alive during a period of prolonged drought in the world's No.3 beef exporter.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said much of prime Queensland pastoral land, which is home to almost 50 percent of the national herd, will receive more than 50 millimetres of rain over the next two days as a tropical low hits the country's northeast coast.

"The situation is as desperate as it gets," said Tim McRae, chief economist at Meat and Livestock Australia. "If the forecasts are right, it would be vital, with rains a huge benefit for some of the best cattle country in the whole of Australia."

Benchmark Australian prices, the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator, hit a near eight-month low on January 22 as farmers boosted slaughtering rates.

The increased slaughter rate could push stock numbers of cattle at the end of the current 2013/14 season below the five-year low already forecast in December by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture, Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

ABARES pegged exports at a record 1.085 million tonnes on the back of soaring production. (Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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