Livestock prices prove a shining light

Livestock prices prove a shining light


Agribusiness
Kimberley pastoralist Jack Burton, Yeeda Pastoral Company, is building his own abattoir.

Kimberley pastoralist Jack Burton, Yeeda Pastoral Company, is building his own abattoir.

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IT'S been a record-breaking year for the red meat industry and while season-wise it's one many would prefer to forget, nobody complained when the prices started rising.

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IT'S been a record-breaking year for the red meat industry and while season-wise it's one many would prefer to forget, nobody complained when the prices started rising.

Some of the milestones met this year were contrasting in what they translated to for the industry - prices climbed for sheep and also cattle towards the end of the year, but it was directly as a result of dwindling numbers in the State.

One of the big positive milestones early on in the piece, was the highly anticipated opening of the $54.5 million Muchea Livestock Centre and the closure of the Midland saleyards.

Featuring soft flooring for cattle, curved races that reduce livestock and human contact, on-site effluent treatment and potable water self-sufficiency using the 5.2 hectare of roof as catchment, the centre is expected to see 800,000 sheep and 90,000 cattle per annum.

Run by the WA Meat Industry Authority (WAMIA), the centre got off to a reasonably good start, although there were quite a few teething problems which were met with some criticism by the industry.

Nevertheless, it set a benchmark that only strengthened the push for the State Government to invest in other key regional saleyards.

That push finally achieved a result two weeks ago, with the announcement of $21.5m for the Katanning, Mt Barker and Boyanup saleyards.

Meanwhile, the Red Meat Action Group (RMAG) continued its crusade for the development of a red meat precinct and it seemed to gather momentum with the formation of a steering committee, called the South West Agrifood Precinct Group (SWAPG), formed in January and independently chaired by Leon Giglia.

That was followed by the identification of a preferred site south of Burekup and Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman announcing his support for the project.

This year also saw the establishment of the WA Beef Council and Producers' Roundtable, key recommendations of the beef stocktake report which was released in 2009.

One of the most recent projects for the council has been the consideration of the Northwest Beef Abattoir Pre-feasibility Study, which was released in October and recommended that the area between Broome and Roebuck Junction be researched in detail as a possible abattoir site.

It's something northern cattle producers have been fighting for for a long time and the need for them to broaden their marketing options was highlighted further this year, as they struggled with the removal of a key live export market as Indonesia imposed tight restrictions on its cattle imports.

Kimberley pastoralists Jack and Vicki Burton, Yeeda Pastoral Company, took matters into their own hands and decided to build their own abattoir facility and market their own brand of beef, Kimberley Free Range Beef.

The issues with Indonesia hit the live export industry hard, but it also took a battering from animal welfare groups, and even the Fremantle mayor, in 2010.

Despite that, exporters continued to ship record numbers of both sheep and cattle and tap into new markets or re-open others, such as Turkey and Egypt.

It was also seen to come to the rescue of producers in the South West, as the beef market was flooded with producers looking to offload stock, which had many concerned the price would drop to further lows.

Many South West producers hailed the industry as somewhat of a saviour for taking volumes of cattle out of a heavily flooded market.

At the time, Busselton producer Mark Hardey said he felt disillusioned by the beef industry, and the live export industry was the only positive aspect of the industry in recent times.

"They have been a saviour," Mr Hardey said.

"I think if they can take cattle out of the South West market then it's a good thing."

High grain prices and an increase in cattle prices made for tough conditions for WA lotfeeders this year, who were also lobbed with Coles' decision to ban hormone growth promotant (HGP) beef from its shelves in 2011.

The industry was willing to adapt if it was compensated price-wise by retailers, but so far no other retailers have followed suit.

Cattle producer and The Beef Shop owner Kevin Armstrong made an early prediction in February that WA was heading towards a major beef shortage and as the year progressed and the season worsened, his prediction seemed to begin to ring true.

Mr Armstrong said then that the dismal state of the WA beef industry had resulted in producers opting out of breeding cattle, and it was the larger producers making that choice.

"It's the bigger producers that are getting out, not the smaller ones," Mr Armstrong said.

"I think we'll start to feel the impact of this in 12 months time.

"You only have to look at the number of weaner sales we used to have, compared to the number we have now."

It was soon after that sheep and cattle from all over the State began making the trek over east with the strong lure of higher prices and greener pastures.

Back in August, it was big news when the number of sheep and cattle that had crossed the Ceduna quarantine checkpoint tipped over 200,000 head and over 50,000 head, respectively, blitzing the 2009 total figure.

Now some four months later, that figure has just rolled past the million head mark for sheep and hit 128,060 for cattle.

There's no doubt that the State's sheep flock has hit record lows and it's got many concerned for what lies ahead in 2011, particularly for processors and live exporters that may struggle with supply.

Prices for ewe lambs peaked at $300 at Naracoorte in South Australia at the end of November, while earlier this month at a sale in Wodonga, NSW, 250kg calves made $600 or 240c/kg, while heavier (370-380kg) calves sold for $760-$770 a head.

It seems as though livestock have once again become a valuable commodity, and it's great to see producers being rewarded for their hard work.

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