THE WA sheep flock could drop to eight million head if live exports are phased out.
WAFarmers chief executive Trent Kensett-Smith made this statement, based on research done into the impacts of a ban on live exports, at the Western Australian Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) Annual General Meeting held in Perth on Saturday.
His comments were in direct response to the situation surrounding the suspension of Emanuel Exports’ licence and Livestock Shipping Services deciding not to trade out of WA during the northern summer months.
Mr Kensett-Smith said “under the current rules – as bad as the situation was – Emanuel Exports has actually done nothing wrong”.
“They have reported exactly as they were expected to,” he said.
“They have done everything to the letter that they needed to.
“What the suspension is around is loading a boat with the knowledge you will be putting those animals into harm.
“Knowing what some of the summer situations can be, that’s the argument that they are making – that the boat was loaded with the background knowledge that those animals were going into a harmful situation.
“And no one ever sets up for that.”
He said that “WAFarmers Livestock Council president David Slade said Emanuel’s licence has been suspended while they are still under investigation – so they have been proven guilty before they have been able to be given their chance”.
“It’s one of those things – government’s have had to make a decision around some of this stuff – but to make us the scapegoat is a pretty tough one I think.”
Mr Kensett-Smith said the sheep flock was at a historically low 13.5 to 14 million head, but the only thing that would keep producers in the industry was the high wool prices as sheep meat and saleyard prices were expected to take a hit if there was a change to the live sheep trade.
“Wool prices will need to hold for people to stay in the industry,” Mr Kensett-Smith said.
“If people are going to keep their wethers they are going to keep their mutton ewes – obviously they are going to need the wool prices to hold, which is fantastic for (shearers), but at the same time if the overall value of the sheep and the industry doesn’t stay the same, or similar, it becomes a point where it is an economic loss for the farmer and they are going to start looking at whether they want to be part of the industry.”
He said if there was a total cessation of the live sheep industry – “it is going to be a massive issue - even the summer cessation is a problem”.
“Then we start talking about industry pressure - including shearing, trucking, feedlots, feeding mills, all sorts of stuff,” Mr Kensett-Smith said.
“We did some rough numbers where effectively if that particular scenario keeps rolling forward we worked out that in year four you will need 80 per cent more shearers on the ground than you have now.
“I think that might be a little bit unrealistic.
“That becomes an animal welfare issue as much as anything else.
“If the sheep can’t be shorn because we don’t have the numbers to do it - it becomes an animal welfare issue in its own right.”
He said if the financials didn’t stack up the easy option for producers was to “buy another tractor and go cropping”.
“So effectively the numbers will drop away - the numbers they are talking about is our flock may get as low as eight or nine million,” he said.
“At 8-9 million we have plenty of shearers - and we have plenty of processing activity.
“But how do we keep everyone employed for 12 months?
“All of a sudden the industry becomes risky in the point that there isn’t enough to do.
“Farmers changing enterprises isn’t the easiest thing to do.
“When we are talking about changing a whole management program it runs right through not just the farm but the community - the agribusinesses and the regional development points all together.”
He said no matter what happens exporters were going to exit the wool market if the trade ceases.
“When I was with Elders, Emanuel Exports were actually the biggest wool client we had and we only got half the clip - so it was a pretty handy clip to come through,” he said.
“Exporters exit the yard market and the buying market altogether so the prices have got to go one way - one way only.”
After hearing Mr Kensett-Smith’s remarks WASIA members voted for the association to formally support the efforts of WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association in writing.
WASIA president Darren Spencer said that the live sheep export issue was of real concern to its members and it was important to get behind those fighting to protect the livelihoods of their clients.