THERE are many ways you can look at livestock figures.Some of the latest data on the livestock industry certainly comes down to interpretation and your take on the supply and trading chains.
Meat and Livestock Australia have tried to shed some light on the vexed question of how much of the money spent on red meat actually goes to the producer, compared to those further down the supply chain.
While most farmers probably don't realise it, their position has improved in recent years and it is good news - apparently.
MLA has estimated that, for every retail dollar spent on beef in the 2011-12 financial year, the producer's share was 36.6 per cent.
This is an improvement on the 35 per cent farmer share calculated for 2010-11, MLA reported.
It is also significantly better than the drought years, when cattle prices were dragged down and the producer take of the retail dollar was as low as 30 per cent.
But, to spin the figures around, it means the farmer who produces the article, with all its associated costs of land, water, genetics, fertiliser and seed inputs etc, receives only a little over a third of all the money generated by retail sales of beef.
It appears on the low side to me.
While the figures analysed by MLA might indicate a positive trend in retail spending and how much producers are capturing, they don't reflect or dim the growing frustration among farmers about their financial returns and viability.
At last week's Bendigo store sheep sale Colin Mountjoy, of Neilborough East, said prices for livestock were not consistently keeping up with rising production costs, regardless of how the figures were spun.
Mr Mountjoy paid the top price of $140 for replacement 1 1/2-year-old Merino ewes.
When asked by The Weekly Times about how that investment sat against current returns for sheepmeat, he said: "You couldn't say we've been selling lambs this year, we've been giving them away."
What business other than farming is receiving the same price for its product as it did five, 10 or even 15 years ago, despite rising overheads?
To be fair, MLA does point out that its retail analysis is not meant to be an indicator of farm profitability.
It refers to it as just another tool in the basket of indicators that can be used to help assess the performance of the red meat industry.
"The producer share of the retail dollar used and analysed on its own it not an indicator of farm profitability or viability," MLA said in last week's report.
Producers' shares of the retail dollars are affected by many different things at any point in time.
Factors, MLA said, include seasonal conditions, livestock prices, transportation costs, refrigeration, labour, value adding, wastage, rent, utilities, equipment and regulatory costs across the supply chain and the availability of data to calculate the estimate.
The impact of drought and record high saleyard prices for sheepmeat certainly seem to have been the main factors behind producers' share of the retail dollar spent on lamb climbing to 51 per cent in 2010-11.
However, in the latest calculation - for the 2011-12 financial year - it has fallen to 44 per cent due to lower lamb prices.
Meanwhile, another topic where the figures can be spun many ways is the store sheep market and ewe prices.
Much has been said about how much cheaper they are compared to last year's record rates.
But, when compared to current returns for mutton and lamb, it is possible to argue that farmers are really in no better position.
In early November last year, the average return from a 24kg prime lamb and a heavy mutton ewe amounted to $238, based on national saleyard indicator rates.
Last month the return from the same weight prime lamb and ewe had fallen to $128 - a $100 difference on 12 months ago.
Yet price averages at many of the specialist first-cross ewe sales in the past month have averaged only $80 less than last year.
Even if you work on a $100 correction for store ewes in general, it means a farmer's trading position hasn't really changed.