August 22, 2022


Beef industry bears biggest share of rural debt in Queensland, Australia



The Queensland Rural Debt Survey 2021 report recently tabled in the parliament of Queensland, Australia, provides a snapshot of the size and nature of rural debt held by Queensland cattle producers at the end of December.


The survey, which the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority undertakes every two years together with the Queensland Government Statisticians Office and all major rural lenders, ascertains the extent, nature and size of rural debt in Queensland.


The state's cattle producers experienced a range of challenges during 2020 and 2021 including extensive drought and flooding, followed by herd decline and cattle price rises, impacting the performance of the industry and the amount of debt accumulated.


The survey found that over the period, beef debt increased by 28.3% (rounded) to $13.7 billion. The beef industry is the largest holder of rural debt in Queensland at 56.9% of total rural debt. The number of beef borrowers declined by 190 to 7369 and the average debt per borrower increased by 31.6% to $1.86 million.


The quality of the beef debt itself has remained stable with the proportion of beef debt rated as viable (A) or potentially viable long term (B+) increased to 96% from 94% in 2019.


While this is the case, the proportion of borrowers holding either viable or potentially viable long term rated debt decreased to 92.3% from 93.2% in 2019, with the proportion of borrowers holding A and B+ rated debt declining by 4.5% and increasing by 3.5% respectively.


This decline highlights the increased concentration of viable beef debt among a smaller volume of borrowers, with a reduction in the number of borrowers holding viable rated debt from 5684 in 2019 to 5211, and an increase in the average debt per borrower for holders of viable rated debt from $1.495 million in 2019 to $2.064 million.


Cattle herd numbers declined in both 2019 and 2020 due to drought before rising in 2021, as higher rainfall levels across the state encouraged herd rebuilding.


Cattle prices increased significantly over the period with the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator rising by more than 100% between December 2019 and December 2021.


The number and value of rural land sales also increased over the period with the number of sales increasing from 2079 in 2019 to 2943 in 2021, and the value of sales rising from $3.95 billion in 2019 to $6.37 billion in 2021. Over the 2019 to 2021 period, the value of rural sales increased by a greater proportion than the number of rural sales, reflecting an increase in average sale price.


The percentage increase in beef debt is slightly higher than the debt increase recorded in other industries. Across Queensland, total rural debt rose from $19.1 billion in 2019 to $24.06 billion in 2021, an increase of 26% since the previous survey.


At a regional level, the Western Queensland and Central Highlands regions accounts for the highest proportion of beef debt with $5.25 billion or 38.4% of total state beef debt. This was followed by the Southern Coastal – Curtis to Moreton region and the Central North region which accounted for $2.68 billion and $1.74 billion or 19.6% and 12.7% of total beef debt respectively.


The Western Downs and Central Highlands region also had the highest number of beef borrowers at 2519, followed by the Southern Coastal – Curtis to Moreton region with 1998 and then the Eastern Darling Downs with 831.


In terms of Farm Management Deposits, which are an important indicator of industry performance, the value of deposits increased over the period while the number of accounts declined.


In December 2019, beef accounts were valued at $460.4 million and by December 2021 they were $504.8 million, an increase of 9.6%. The number of accounts declined slightly by 1.14% from 3073 in 2019 to 3038 in 2021.


The most recent Queensland Rural Debt Survey provides an important snapshot of the financial state of the state's rural industries and will help inform both government and industry.  However, it is recognised that rural businesses operate in an active environment and debt levels will continue to be impacted.


Looking to the future, cattle prices have fluctuated in the past few months, although remain historically high and seasonal conditions are presently strong with above average rainfall for most parts of the state recorded this year.


After remaining low for an extended period, interest rate rises this year may lead to increased pressure on borrowers. An area of immediate focus is the serious threat of foot and mouth disease, which would have drastic impact on the industry if it were to reach Australia.


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