By EMMA CORNFORD
THE PEAK cattle producers' association has predicted a stong year for cattle production in 2005, but Clarence Valley experts say it's too early to tell.
In its 2005 outlook, the Cattle Council of Australia said beef exports last year were estimated to have increased in volume by nine per cent and in value by 18 per cent, and claimed the performance could be matched or bettered in 2005.
But manager of Elders Grafton, stock and station agent John Pankhurst, said there were too many fluid factors which influenced the industry in the Clarence.
"It's very difficult to predict what might happen to beef prices because there are so many things that affect the market," Mr Pankhurst said.
"If the prices remain as strong as they have been for the past 12 months I don't think there'll be too many producers who are disappointed but I'm not very optimistic about that happening."
He said drought and the possible strengthening of the Australian dollar would be the two major factors influencing the industry in the Clarence.
"There's still 60 per cent of New South Wales drought-affected so obviously that has an effect ... and that's something we have no control over," he said.
Australian Cattle Council president Bill Bray said Australian exports to the United States and Japan were expected to remain strong, despite the likelihood of the US re-entering the Japanese market after a case of mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), was detected there last year.
But Mr Pankhurst said it was likely the re-entering of the US into the international market would impact on Australian producers.
"The countries involved in mad cow are getting their acts together and that could have a serious impact on the market, too, because they would be able to export to Japan and other markets again and that would have a real softening influence on our industry," he said.
Mr Pankhurst said the operational level of the abattoirs in the Clarence would also im- pact on cattle prices.