INDONESIA'S live cattle restrictions have presented a range of other export opportunities for Australian beef producers according to one of Australia's biggest cattle exporters.
Wellard Rural Exports managing director Steve Meerwald said Indonesia will eventually just be one of many markets in South East Asia and opportunities will continue to grow for producers in northern Australia.
Mr Meerwald said he had noticed a decline in the number of boats bound for overseas ports since Indonesia had tightened their import regulations.
He said last year Wellard put 280,000 cattle in for market but this year he thinks they would send about 120,000 or 130,000 overseas, but even then, he couldn't be certain.
But he said the 350kg limit on Australian live cattle imposed by Indonesia had forced exporters to look to other markets and the model developed in Indonesia could be replicated in a whole range of South East Asian countries.
"The question raised over the last couple of years is should we be complacent about having Indonesia as our primary export market, soaking up about 70-80 per cent of our cattle?" Mr Meerwald said.
"The issue which we thought was going to go away has actually got worse, but it has presented us with opportunities for other markets and it's my belief that in the next 20 years we are going to see a lot of those markets realise their potential."
Mr Meerwald said there were also many other opportunities Wellard was exploring, such as putting cattle on ships and sending them to abattoirs in Australia.
He said once domestic issues were overcome, Wellard could take cattle from Darwin to Townsville or from Broome to Bunbury.
"At the moment, the only outlet other than those export markets is putting cattle on trucks for a couple of days and sending them a long way for slaughter, which is not the smartest thing to do," he said.
"We could do it cheaper than road transport and putting them on boats where they've got feed and water will present a much better return for everybody.
"We know we could do that well, but we've got a few issues to overcome first."
Mr Meerwald said distant markets, such as the Middle East, were also worth considering.
"We've seen a significant growth in the interest in cattle in the Middle East," he said.
"I've seen sheep meat go from somewhere between a third and 50 per cent of the value per tonne liveweight to now actually dearer than the beef market, so they are now looking at beef and the possibility of importing more beef.
"Egypt and Libya can predominately carry cattle that are in excess of 350kg, so there is definitely an outlet there."
But Mr Meerwald said due to Indonesia's rapid population rise, they will eventually have to lift their import restrictions and, "in the not too distant future", Australia will be sending more cattle over there.
"Indonesia is a market of 240 million people but they now have a political imperative that is absolutely not sustainable," he said.
"We will go through some short term pain but I have absolutely no doubt that in the not to distance future, whether it's at 350kg or a variant of that, we will have more cattle going to Indonesia," he said.
Wellard owner Mauro Balzarini was also confident the industry would continue to deliver.
"It may be tough now but we are optimistic," Mr Balzarini said.
"We are reassuring the pastoralists that we are looking at other markets and whatever can't go to Indonesia can go elsewhere.
"Indonesia is a serious situation which won't be resolved quickly; it's very political so it's hard to predict."
Mr Balzarini said everyone had to understand that there was no short term solution, but everyone was working on a solution.
"There is a limit for what we can do, but we are not giving up," he said.