Impasse on saleyards losses

15 Dec, 2004 10:00 PM
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PRODUCERS are angry about reports the Great Southern Cattle Saleyards is going to be put up for sale.

The yards, barely three years old, are run at an estimated loss of $120,000 per year.

The deficit is borne equally between co-owners the City of Albany and the Plantagenet shire council.

But he short marriage of convenience between the local governments is breaking up.

The City of Albany wants to get out. Only a sharp rise in user levies could save the relationship, the Albany council said.

It appears from the disagreement, that once again, rural and urban interests are not harmonious bedfellows.

In April, the Albany City Council decided to rid itself of its half share or to take over management of the yards.

Plantagenet shire president Kevin Forbes, a farmer, told Farm Weekly that the yards were already the most expensive for users of any yards in WA.

"The proposed increases for yard dues would drive farmers away to other yards,² he said.

³The shire has made some headway with the city. We are having an assessment done of our costs if we were the sole managers of the yards.

"Albany has managed them since they opened in May 2001.

It is claimed that the City of Albany has asked the Shire of Plantagenet to buy the city's share of the original cost of $850,000 and to pay $1m over 15 years.

This amount would likely come from agent¹s levies to repay the city's loan for the structure.

Mr Forbes said Plantagent shire would not agree to the proposal.

He said the shire had made an offer of $850,000.

The 2003 yarding was down on the previous year but it is expected 63,000 head would pass through the yards in 2004.

Any attempt to cut yard losses by increasing yard fees would be met with a vigorous response by the agents.

Several told Farm Weekly that they would withdraw from using the yards, if the suggested 40pc hike in fees was instituted.

Beef producers, too, voiced their opposition.

Mt Barker beef producer and former president of the WA Lotfeeders Association Joe Hetherington said: "A rise in the levy is a rise in our costs.

³They'll cause a drop in yard receivals.

³We're being hit by cost rises every day. Doesn't the city understand the yards are a city facility, like other things it operates at a loss?

"The shire would do a better job of managing the yards, because it understands the importance of the livestock industries to the shire's and Mt Barker's economies.²

Another well-known beef producer, who did not want to be named, said the yards owners lacked a customer focus.

"If the customer is treated better I believe yardings would increase substantially," he said. "More unloading yards are required and the environmental issue needs cleaning up."

There is an environmental issue.

The pondage which receives the yard run-off and the truck wash liquid is of inadequate capacity.

Truck drivers praised the truck wash facility.

Richard O'Connor, driver for John Mitchell, Waroona, said drivers were generally happy with the facility.

"Good water pressures and plenty of it. Not much waiting time," he said.

Albany city councillor Ian West, a farmer who represented the biggest ward of the city, wasn't so happy.

"I've never liked the condition of the wash facility. We never envisaged the problems we've had with the pondage,² he said.

³It's far too small. But that's a separate issue. We must make the yards pay. The city can't continue suffering losses on the yards.

³Nor can I see Plantagent being able to run the yards alone. An agents' levy rise of $1.50 a head would raise $95,000 a year at the current throughput.

It is a suggestion which makes some agents livid.

The yard opened in May 2004 as a joint $4.4m venture that replaced the Mt Barker and Albany cattle saleyards.

Mr West said Albany City ratepayers would not accept the losses, nor should they.

Will such an impasse remain in an election year?

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