MILLIONS of dollars have already been wiped from livestock returns this month.
Southeast Australia's famed weaner sales have failed to deliver the much needed price hike to flagging cattle returns, while opening store sheep sales are earning half what they were a year ago.
In the past week:
CATTLE weaners sold to a top of $800, well down on last year's peak of $950.
YOUNG Merino ewes sold to $120 - more than half the $242 last year.
THE Eastern Young Cattle Indicator opened at 313c/kg, down 106c/kg on a year ago.
Weaner cattle prices in northern Victoria and the Western District are $100-$220 down on last year.
Landmark Hamilton's Greg Lewis said the Angus steer weaner average at last week's sale was $595, down $160 on last year.
And there was a similar drop in the Hamilton Hereford steer average, which fell $168 to $560.
Meat and Livestock Australia's chief economist Tim McRae said dry, hot conditions were sapping confidence from producers.
"Certainly with the weaner sales for the past few years, many places had wet summers and producers were looking for animals to eat grass," he said.
"Flat prime prices for the last six months have gradually eroded confidence."
Rod Manning from Mansfield averaged less than 200c/kg for his Angus weaners last week, compared to 270c/kg for similar cattle a year ago.
Fellow vendor Sue Ray from Ournie, NSW, sold Angus steer weaners for $725 at Wodonga last week, $165 lower than last year.
"Last year was a bonus and this year is reality," she said.
Prime markets are also losing ground, as producers offer big numbers.
Wagga Wagga's market of about 3600 cattle was cheaper on Monday, with feeder steer rates slipping as much as 24c/kg.
There's little joy in the sheep market either, with returns halved for Deniliquin's annual January store ewe sale late last week.
Elders Deniliquin agent John Fitzpatrick said the average for the 30,000 sheep would be half that of last year.
"The fact that few people passed in their sheep shows that they understand where the market is at," he said.
David Milthorpe of Jerilderie sold young ewes last week for $120, compared to $242 last year.
"It's not great but it is where the market is," he said.