New Zealand dairy exports to China for the 10 months to October have virtually matched full-year 2011 exports, with two months still to go.
The latest Rabobank agribusiness report showed 463,000 tonnes were exported in the 10-month period, compared with 467,000 for 12 months last year.
China continued to dominate export destinations, up 9000 tonnes (or 27%) compared with October last year.
The Chinese also started the 2012-13 sheepmeat season on a strong note, importing more than double the volume from New Zealand than in October 2011.
China overtook the United Kingdom as the key export destination for New Zealand lamb and mutton in the 2011-12 season (on a volume basis), importing about 62,000 tonnes from October 2011.
Export milk volumes through October tracked production flows and were up 5%-6%. The export product mix altered to favour cheese and skim milk powder proportionally a little, as more attractive pricing had been available relative to whole milk powder, the report said.
Dairy prices posted modest gains in this week's GlobalDairyTrade auction, increasing 1.1% on a trade-weighted basis.
The increase partially reversed the last auction's 2% fall. Compared with the May lows, dairy prices were now about 28% higher.
However, the auction was mixed across products, with rises interspersed with falls, and a rise in the New Zealand dollar eroded all of the gains, Westpac economist Nathan Penny said.
Volatile cheddar and casein recorded large rises of 4.9% and 6.9% respectively, explaining much of the overall rise. Benchmark whole milk prices fell 0.6% while skim milk powder lifted 1.1%, Mr Penny said.
In Australia, the 2012-13 seasonal flush had passed and production growth had come in below expectation, mostly due to wet weather in parts of Victoria, the Rabobank report said.
A gradual recovery improvement in commodity prices was also expected to help deliver farmers a full-year price of close to $A5 per kilo of milk solids.
North Island and South Island lamb prices fell by 58c and 55c respectively during November. The total number of lambs slaughtered in October increased by 44% year-on-year to 1.5 million head.
South Island slaughter was 57% larger than in October 2011 at 663,000 head, although average carcass weights were 6% lower year-on-year at 19.9kg.
The total volume of sheep meat exported to Europe increased by 25% year-on-year in October to about 8600 tonnes, although, on a value basis, remained 10% lower year-on-year for the month.
That provided some evidence of clearing inventory levels from last season at the lower prices, the report said.
The seasonal lift in demand before Christmas, coupled with limited lamb production in the UK and an increase in supply availability from Oceania, helped to support growth in the volume of European sheepmeat imports in recent months.
The strong start to the beef processing season, with slaughter rates up 43% year-on-year, was a result of drier conditions on the east coast of the North Island.
Exports to the United States were up 5% year-to-date compared to 2011, while exports to China were up 176%, now sitting at 6281 tonnes.
The largest decline in exports continued to be Indonesia. The dramatic decline (down 58% year-to-date) was the result of the Indonesian government continuing to limit permits through its push for self-sufficiency.