THIS year is certainly shaping up to be a year of significant uncertainty for the WA agricultural industry.
While there has been a lot of focus on the future of sheep live exports, the northern beef industry is not completely immune from knock-on affects resulting from issues that might, on face value, appear to be southern facing only.
Added to this, there has certainly been a late start to live cattle exports from the north of WA this year with slow demand being reported in our three key markets – Indonesia, Vietnam and the Middle East.
Lower prices are also being received for cattle in the Indonesian market due to the impact of imports of Indian buffalo and beef.
It doesn’t take much to bring back the memories of the 2011 live export ban on cattle to Indonesia that shook the northern beef industry to its foundation.
The ban cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars and sent a number of producers out of business.
The relatively shortlived ban was still significant enough to have highly detrimental effects to the industry.
This should not be forgotten.
Pastoralists always hope that Federal and State governments fully assess and seek to understand the consequences of their actions prior to making decisions, knee jerk or otherwise.
The class action related to the 2011 live export ban, being co-ordinated by the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, is ongoing and is expected to result in significant compensation liability for the Federal government.
This class action seeks compensation for the detriment suffered by producers.
It also sustains that then Federal Labor agriculture minister Joe Ludwig misused his power in initiating the ban.
While the Federal Labor Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon’s media interview last week, post his visit to the Berrimah Live Export facility in the Northern Territory, could have provided some comfort to the northern beef industry regarding the future of live cattle exports should Labor win the next Federal election – it just served to further compound the stress the WA sheep industry and related businesses are feeling.
At the end of the day, there are no guarantees Mr Fitzgibbon would be appointed agricultural minister should Labor win the next election.
Fundamentally, Federal and State governments from whichever side of politics should seek to understand and support the live export trade.
They should recognise the significant contribution it makes to regional economies and also understand the economic benefits of producers having a diversity of market opportunities available to them.
The live export trade continues to provide export income to a significant number of Australian producers.
It underpins most of the agricultural activity in northern Australia.
The live export trade in cattle from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of WA was worth at least $150 million in 2017.
The entire WA live export trade of cattle in 2017 was worth $273m.
More importantly, Australia remains the only live exporting country committed to improving animal welfare in the countries it exports to.
Any bans to live exports from Australia therefore result in a net reduction in overall animal welfare outcomes when the trade is diverted to other supplying countries.
It’s now, more than ever, that the broader agricultural industry in WA can benefit from working together.
Ensuring politicians of all persuasions and the general public better understand our industry and the benefits it provides beyond its immediate regional and remote areas is critical.
To this end, we applaud the recent efforts of Andy Jacob, as chairman of the Livestock and Rural Transporter’s Association of WA, in taking the lead to ensure co-ordination and collaboration by WA agricultural industry bodies and related businesses to positively promote and future proof the agricultural sector in WA.