THE live cattle export industry has been instrumental in more pastoralists buying cattle run-off properties in the northern agricultural region.
Agriculture Department senior veterinary officer Bob Nickels said about 70 pastoralists had so far bought properties south of Kalbarri.
They were spread as far south as Esperance and Albany but about 55 had set up operations in the northern agricultural region, mainly in the past 3-4 years.
The region is the area north of Gingin, east to Dalwallinu and to the north of Geraldton.
Mr Nickels said the reason pastoralists bought properties further south was so they did not have to carry cattle over to the next season.
The northern season usually ended in early November and didn't re-open until March or April.
By sending cattle further south to winter or spring pastures pastoralists could finish their cattle faster and export them later in the year or earlier the next year through Geraldton or Fremantle ports.
Mr Nickels said Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated cattle numbers in the northern agricultural region had risen by 30pc or from 159,000 to 208,000-head from 1996-97 to 2000-01.
He said the 2002 estimate was 250,000 head.
Mr Nickels said that in an average year between 25,000-30,000 pastoral cattle were sent directly to farms in the region and this number was expected to grow.
He said the influx of pastoral cattle started seriously in 2001 and hit a crescendo in 2002 when severe drought in pastoral regions pushed more than 50,000 head of cattle south.
Mr Nickels said good store cattle sales had also been developing at Geraldton where about 9000 pastoral cattle were being sold each year through the Narngulu cattle yards.
He said about 16,000 head of cattle were exported out of Geraldton Port in 2001, compared to 26,000 in 2002 and 27,000 in 2003. Cattle from the northern agricultural region were also sent out through Fremantle.
Other reasons for pastoralists buying properties further south included, succession, the attraction of freehold title in light of uncertainty over pastoral lease renewals, diversification and Native Title complexities.
Cheaper land prices in the northern agricultural region also provided a lower cost of production, which with salinity problems, has motivated some South West beef producers to also set up operations north of Perth.