THE ongoing effect of one of the worst droughts the nation has seen is starting to take its toll on

25 Oct, 2006 08:45 PM

Stock numbers are rapidly dwindling as saleyards across Australia cope with farmers offloading stock due to barren paddocks.

Crops on the east and west coasts have either failed or been drastically cut in yield.

The Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) has predicted a tough summer ahead for the industry, but national president Mark Sullivan has advocated professionalism as the best way through.

³When times are good there is a temptation to go it alone, but in hard times, the association really comes into its own,² he said.

³The drought times are the most important times to have a sense of community in your own industry.²

Mr Sullivan, based at Cunderdin, said the focus in the media on farmers¹ plights during a drought was understandable, but trucking was set to be hit very hard and would receive no assistance.

³Rural transport relies on productive agriculture,² he said

³If the work is not there we stand still and our industry is very capital intensive.²

A new B-double and prime mover can cost more than $500,000 and truck operators rely on constant work to pay for their capital.

³Unfortunately, we¹re going into a period where work will slow,² Mr Sullivan said.

³Grain harvests are poor in most places and in the west there is a locust plague too.²

Despite the unusually high amount of livestock on roads in recent months, Mr Sullivan said conditions in WA were not as bad as some parts of the eastern states.

³There are record yardings in the east, with people realising they will not be able to carry the stock through another dry summer,² he said.

³A lot of people have quit their sheep and they will not buy them back; in WA there still is a few people buying in sheep.²

Mr Sullivan still expects the activity level to drop and said many operators would find it difficult.

The well below-average harvest predicted for WA could force some operators running on tighter margins to close business, he said.

³There will be a few casualties and unfortunately there is not too much we can do about it,² Mr Sullivan said.

The trucking industry has called for Federal Government help for operators who will experience a loss of income due to the drought.

Mr Sullivan said concessions on interest rates could be one way to help relieve the pressure.

There also could be some positive outcomes for the industry as a result of the drought, he said.

³Our industry works on very low margins and unfortunately that is in part caused by a few who virtually run at a loss, sometimes with questionable practices and sub-standard gear,² Mr Sullivan said.

³This drags the rates down.

³If the slow period forces some of these people to choose other pursuits, the industry in the long run will be safer and more productive as a result.²

The industry has also had a major win at policy level.

The Productivity Commis-sion is set to recommend to the Prime Minister and state premiers that trucking pays its own way for road use.

³This is a significant victory and it sets the stage for other reforms in how road funding is spent in rural Australia,² Mr Sullivan said.



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