THERE is no silver bullet solution for northern beef producers looking for alternative markets to live exports, according to Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) beef leader Brad McCormick.
Mr McCormick told the WA Northern Beef Forum in Broome last week that there was a need to implement change in the industry through long-term planning and investments.
"There are options for beef producers in the north of WA but many of them are long-term solutions and are not a quick fix," Mr McCormick said.
Mr McCormick began by discussing the potential challenges that currently face the northern beef industry.
"The number one challenge is the looming supply issue that has come about after a number of years of drought," Mr McCormick said.
"Just last year around 145,000 head of cattle were trucked over east and half of these were female."
He added that the dominant market, live export, was now under threat and was no longer a stable and sure option for northern producers.
"Not only are producers dealing with this volatility but with no local processing plant and the cost of trucking to the southern processors, there are limited options for beef producers up here to seek alternative markets for their cattle," Mr McCormick added.
But he said it wasn't all doom and gloom, with price initiated confidence seeing pastoralists in the region holding on to their heifers and cows.
"We have seen a drop of around 15-20 per cent of female sales this year compared to the last 10-15 years," Mr McCormick said.
Animal welfare was also becoming an increasing challenge in the industry in the north especially in the wake of the Four Corners report on the live export trade to Indonesia.
"The high reliance on live export to Indonesia meant that when the ban was put in place in June many producers lost their only market," Mr McCormick said.
"It is a very risky situation for them to be in."
Mr McCormick said there were also added challenges around meeting the right specifications for southern processors.
"Southern processors shy away from bos Indicus cattle and according to Meat Standards Australia (MSA) the presence of tropical breeds have a negative impact on the eating quality of many cuts," Mr McCormick said.
"Although I must add that while processors remain hesitant about tropical breeds, many cuts from tropical bred cattle can still grade MSA 3, 4 or 5.
"Good management is the key here and as with all grades, producing heavier but younger animals will result in improved grading results and combat the tropical content."
He said there was also an opportunity to slightly alter management practices and limit the use of bos Indicus breeds in terminal situations in order to meet the southern market specifications.
"A change in attitude towards risk management and towards change is needed in the WA beef cattle industry," Mr McCormick said.
Mr McCormick said that the second stage of a pre-feasibility study into a northern WA abattoir had been released, with findings outlining the need for a whole-of-supply chain approach.
"It is no use if we just build an abattoir in Broome as supply will be a limiting factor due to the dominance of live export," Mr McCormick said.
"We would have to develop a co-ordinated plan to build a feed-on sector to support the abattoir which can only come about through land tenure reform, tapping and sourcing new groundwater resources and an increased use of irrigation for fodder production.