WAMMCO is looking at bringing lambs back to WA from the Eastern States for slaughter, as the processor considers all its options to combat the domestic sheep supply shortage that looms in the new year.
It is just one of the options the processor is looking at, according to chief executive Coll MacRury, but with ewe lambs hitting $300 at Naracoorte in South Australia last week, prices have to be right in order to make it a viable option.
The number of sheep leaving WA this year is quickly approaching the one million head mark, with over 863,000 head having gone across the Ceduna checkpoint in the year to date up until Tuesday.
Mr MacRury said it was a big concern looking forward which is why they were keeping all their options open.
He said at this stage they were only looking into what they would have to do to get lambs back over the border, but it was quite a complicated and difficult process given the policies in place for quarantine to avoid diseases such as liver fluke.
"There's restrictions in bringing them into WA, so we've got a lot of work to do before we can even entertain the idea," Mr MacRury said.
"It's quite a tough regime to be able to do it, prices in the east have to be a lot cheaper than they are at the moment for us to be able to do it.
"There would only be a certain window during the year that you could even look at it, so if it ever happened it would only be as a top up.
"But you've got to keep looking at innovative ideas to keep on top of things."
Bringing sheep back over the border is something WAMMCO has been thinking about for a year or so now, according to Mr MacRury, but he said it was hard to see it happening with buoyant stock prices in the east.
Mr MacRury said he could not see prices coming back dramatically anytime soon, at least not to the point where it would be viable for them to freight them back to WA for slaughter.
He said there was enough capacity in the east to process the increase in numbers, so the boost in the Eastern States' flock was unlikely to cause an oversupply and push prices down.
"It's a bit of a wait and see situation," he said.
Mr MacRury said their processing season had been relatively good so far, but the big question would be what was left after Christmas and in the six month period following.
He said he hoped there would be some lambs around, but it would be hard to say what numbers would actually be available.
"We're going well at the moment, we're ahead of what we were last year but that's because of the dry season," he said.
"Now it's just a matter of what's going to be left in the new year."
If supply drops off dramatically after Christmas, Mr MacRury said a rise in the retail price of lamb was possible and it could also result in the large supermarkets bringing over more lamb from the east as carcases to be sold in WA.
As for the future of the WA lamb industry, Mr MacRury said the flock was rebuilding and higher lamb percentages were recorded this season, but the dry season had thrown a big spanner in the works.
Longer term, he said, some decent wet weather patterns were needed to ensure the new season lambs stayed in WA and that there was not a big price differentiation with the east.
"It's a bit like cropping, it's quite dependent on the weather and we just remain hopeful," he said.
According to the Agriculture and Food Department, which WAMMCO is working with to facilitate what needs to be done to bring stock back, there are several elements that need to be complied with, which include:
- Documentation must be provided supporting the eligibility of the stock to enter WA
- Weed seeds - sheep must be free of contamination of the fleece (sheep must not have a fleece length in excess of 20mm)
- Liver fluke - up to 30 sheep from each property of origin may need to be individually sampled and tested free of liver fluke eggs in the faeces to allow entry to WA
- Virulent footrot - the property of origin must not have had any suspicion of virulent footrot within the flock for the previous two years
- Johne's disease - sheep must have 1 or more points under the Assurance Based Credit (ABC) Scheme of the National Management of Ovine Johne's Disease Plan (2007 - 2012)