Weather, climate biggest drivers in sheep producers’ on-farm decision-making

Sheep Central, September 29, 2023

WEATHER and climate are the biggest factors influencing on-farm decision making, lamb and wool producers have indicated in the industry’s most recent Sheep Producer Intentions Survey.

Underwritten by Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation, the Sheep Producer Intentions Survey (SPIS) is used to help industry determine lamb and wool production forecasts and to understand the breed composition of the Australian flock on a national, state and regional basis.

The latest SPIS survey conducted in May undertook the first deep-dive into producer commentary on decision-making, making it impossible to compare with previous surveys.

However insights between flock size and state location produce interesting outcomes.

Results have produced both expected and unexpected insights into the factors influencing on-farm decision making over the upcoming six-month period out to the end of the 2023 calendar year. The survey specifically looked at non-price-related drivers of farm decision making.

Producers across the board indicate weather and climate were their number one factors in decision making.

This high degree of concern matches the Bureau of Meteorology reporting that Australia has now moved into an El Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) phase. Almost 50pc of producers’ on-farm decision-making is dictated by weather or feed considerations, the survey suggests.

In both on-farm and off-farm factors, the next most important topics among lamb and wool producers were labour and staffing, input costs and access to those inpots, and personal issues. Market price (dark green slice) represented a relatively small portion, but the survey was conducted back in May.

Different sized properties have different concerns

As flock size increases, there was growing interest in consideration of input costs and access to inputs, financial factors including interest rates, the broader economy, and lease and land prices.

While producers with a larger flock size were more concerned with financial considerations, 18pc of small sheep producers are focused on personal circumstances such as age, retirement and succession planning.

With the average age of a sheep farmer in Australia sitting at 63 years (ABARES/AARS), producers may start moving away from their often family-owned and managed farms and begin to consider the succession of their business.

Larger properties tend to be more financially focused in their decision-making, the survey found. They are also five times more concerned about labour compared to smaller producers.

Similarly, smaller producers focus less on processor capacity compared to bigger properties. Large properties tended to be far more geared towards mixed farming considerations.

Pests and technology adoption were not front-of-mind issues for sheep producers.

Western Australian focus

Western Australia was the only state where weather was not the largest concern for producers. Instead, their number one concern was live export.

Additionally, Western Australian producers prioritised processor and abattoir space above other states. Survey data was collected in May, preceding the scheduled three-and-a-half-month live export northern summer moratorium.

Commentary from respondents highlighted that producers are limited by the capacities of WA processors, which has resulted in increased pressure to find an appropriate market for their stock. With processors at capacity, the window for destocking in the preferred market narrows.

Producers’ opportunity to contribute

The next iteration of the SPIS survey will be released on 2 October.

Information from the survey provides essential data for MLA to distribute to the broader industry.  Producers can find the survey here.





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