ONE of WA's largest beef processors has called for government intervention to reduce the numbers of WA beef breeding stock being exported out of WA.
Western Meat Packers owner Rod Russell said his operation was processing about 1700 cattle a week but had the capacity to process 2000 a week.
He said cattle numbers in WA were down last year due to a number of factors not just stock going to the east but also the high Australian dollar and live shipping.
He said legislation needed to come into play to solve the issue.
"At some point our industry needs to introduce the same sort of parameters they have in the fishing industry," Mr Russell said.
"When it's a bad year they take some pots off the cray fisherman and you can't catch crayfish with eggs, yet you can kill calves and put females on ships and send them overseas.
"We all accept cattle getting exported and cattle going over east but they need to protect our breeding stock.
"That needs to be recognised as a separate unit to the industry and at the moment it's not."
Last year 1,016,562 sheep and 129,158 cattle left WA en route to the Eastern States while just 94,680 sheep and 5471 cattle went to the east in 2009.
So far this season 21,192 sheep and 2017 cattle have gone to the Eastern States compared to 618,031 sheep and 47,457 cattle at the same time last year.
Ceduna Quarantine Checkpoint manager Peter Lowe said the flow of sheep and cattle through Ceduna on its way to the Eastern States had dropped significantly compared to last year.
"It has definitely dropped right off," Mr Lowe said.
"It usually picks up around September but this year it has dropped off a lot, probably because of the better season in the west."
Mr Lowe said it was impossible to predict whether or not livestock would continue to head east.
"I think everybody is trying to restock at the moment so the numbers will drop back," he said.
"Last year was a unique year and it was certainly the busiest year I have ever had and I have been here for 25 years."
WAMMCO chief executive Scott Weir said WAMMCO was running at full capacity and had been for a number of weeks, processing 20,000 a week of mainly lambs and a couple of thousand ewes.
Mr Weir predicted supply would be very tight in the future but couldn't say when.
"Supply is steady without being massive at the moment," Mr Weir said.
"The supply pressure has allowed the market to correct itself.
"There will be a tight period no doubt but we are just unsure as to when it will hit."
Fletcher International general manager Greg Cross said it was processing around 25,000 a week and its workers were sill working a half an hour overtime each day to make the most of it.
"We are going as best as we can expect at this stage," Mr Cross said.
"We are certainly making hay while the sun shines but I think as livestock supply goes it is only going to be short lived."
Despite the tough season for processors Mr Cross said it would be beneficial in the longer term.
"It is short term pain for long-term gain," he said.
"But in the meantime we just have to survive."
DAFWA senior research officer Kimbal Curtis said he estimated WA had around 12.5 million sheep for the middle of this year, down from 14.7 million in the middle of 2010.
He said there was not enough data to predict the stock levels at the moment or where stock levels were heading.
"We are pretty confident the numbers slaughtered in the calendar year are down compared with the previous year," Mr Curtis said.
"But how the rest of this year will turn out we're not sure."
Mr Curtis said the situation was tight for cattle in WA with around 2.3 million cattle estimated to be in WA in July last year and it could be as low as 2m at the moment, but there was no data to back that up.
"We think cattle numbers in WA could be down a bit - it could be down a couple of hundred thousand but we are just not sure of what exactly that is," he said.
"We just haven't been able to work out the effect of the drought in the south of 2010 and the impact of the suspension of live cattle trade in the north."