Advantage Brazil: Australian beef exports hit by sliding slaughter rate
* Two beef producers idle Australian plants, cut working hours
* Australia cattle prices hit record high on supply worries
* Brazil, Argentina to benefit as Australia beef supply dwindles
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY, Dec 18 (Reuters) - For three years, Australian cattle abattoirs have worked around the clock slaughtering record numbers of animals to supply to the world market, breaking only for a few days over Christmas.
Now, some of the biggest plants have been idled with the national herd at its smallest in decades, heralding a sharp cut in sales by the world's third-biggest beef exporter to major buyers such as the United States, China and Japan.
While this will buoy global beef prices, as the United States rebuilds its own herd, it will also offer exporters such as Brazil and Argentina an opportunity to step up sales.
"This is a once-in-a-generation decline but unfortunately we can expect herd numbers to stay significantly low for at least the next two years as cattle producers rebuild," said Tom Maguire, general manager at meat exporter Teys Australia.
Teys, co-owned by Cargill, and the Australian unit of JBS SA, the world's top beef producer, have both temporarily idled their processing plants and cut working hours - evidence that supply is scarce. Continuación...