This opinion story is written by Murray Ellis, a former sheep farmer from Wannamal.
Agriculture has been very good for Western Australia, and over time laid the foundation for both a magnificent standard of living and quality of life - arguably the best in the world.
Underpinning the excellence and positives of the agricultural industry in WA was the sheep industry, the magnificent Merino sheep breed, the world's best fine wool production, and the by-product adjuncts to Merino farming - the live sheep industry, lamb and crossbred lamb production, and with these a robust trade industry, replacement ewe hoggets, feedlot sheep and ram sales.
More recently there has been a drift from wool to meat, mainly in the form of prime lamb production and the export of processed lamb.
What also needs to be known and appreciated is that farming is a specialised business - an investment in land and infrastructure, and farmers who work on these farms.
Like any successful business, farmers need to earn enough to service their loans, finance the everyday costs of production - fuel, machinery, labour, fertiliser etc, investment in new sheds, machinery, systems etc, receive a positive return on their investment, and be rewarded for their risk gamble of weather and markets - and for their endeavour - relatively good income.
Nothing wrong with that, basically the fundamentals of most businesses.
In 2022, the sheep meat industry appeared stable and thriving, new lamb markets and increased processed lamb exports to America, Asian countries, the Middle East and Europe.
These increased sales were lauded by the plethora of meat industry expert associations, and in fact many were keen to take some credit for these increases.
At this point what is relative, and salient, is that these 'extra' lambs were being produced by the same static number of ewes.
But, within 12 months the lamb price received by the producer has halved, so too has the mutton and trade market.
Whoosh, just like that, out of the blue.
Combined with this decline in overall meat returns is the historically volatile and enigmatic wool price, a product which in reality only has one market, and which has slumped in measured value by about 20 per cent, and in real-time value by about 30pc.
And just to add to these vastly-reduced sheep industry returns is that Australia and WA both have uncaring, unknowledgeable, inept Labor governments - and which are further adding to their naivety by trying to stop the live sheep export industry by sea.
Such is their ingenuous stupidity, that a tax on farting ruminants is not out of the question, given their Labor mentality, in spite of that decision being almost the single most important decision which will see an imminent change of government in NZ.
What basically has happened to the magnificent WA Merino base sheep industry is that it has been overtaken by forms of marketing gangsters.
And why not?
These marketers have got away with it in the past and think they can do it again - after all they are only cheating a mob of dumb farmers.
What is annoying are the various excuses being bandied around by the surfeit of sheep and meat affiliations - all 40 of them, all fronting with pathetic and incorrect reasons.
The price of wool for example is what it is because that is the price China can offer and get away with, and wool producers still shear sheep and sell wool.
But excuses offered include well used furphys, the relativity of the American dollar (ho-hum), mulesing (old hat), the global economy (again old hat), the war in Ukraine, fashion trends, the price of synthetics (with oil at record highs), electronic ear tags - and other nonsense.
Excuses for low meat prices are varied and mostly incorrect, some purported by marketers who have gainful financial considerations to protect, but mostly by another bunch of VIP organisations who simply do not have a clue.
These reasons include COVID (a disease of humans two years ago), climate change (WA has just recorded two of the best farming years in history), El Nino and La Nina (weather conditions which have always existed), CO2 levels (hmm), debate about the Voice, and anything else that they can come up with.
Remember lamb is still being slaughtered and exported, at near-record levels.
But things are different now.
Farmers now have computers, most are market aware, many are well educated, and are aware of historical downturns in sheep returns.
Significant too is that grandad's sentimental influence to stay in sheep no longer exists, and dad's loyalist traditional opinion is waning because he well remembers sheep being shot and buried around 1990.
Plus the modern young farmer is already up and running with expensive cropping machinery, so that the investment change to swing to a cropping enterprise is not too difficult, certainly easier than twenty years ago.
Given the price reductions of all sheep returns and the real threat by government to interfere with sheep marketing, farmers and the sheep industry will need to adjust their enterprises to accommodate these changes.
In my circumstance, I have made the decision to get out of sheep completely.
I do have a large blue tractor and big red seeder, my neighbour is a hay contractor with a big green baler and always keen for my hay, another neighbour has a big yellow cereal grain harvester, and all I need in reality is a couple of big silver grain silos.
So no more fencing, no repair of 'roo runs, no windmill maintenance, leaking pipes and water trough blockages, blowflies, organising shearers, or cumbersome legislation to be concerned about.
And no more excepting the ducks and drakes' mentality and actions of meat processors and exporters.
I may still run a few shedding sheep for home consumption, which like my six chooks will not require electronic ear tags, but given the cheap price of lamb, I probably will not.
And planning those holidays from Christmas to April.
Curling the 'mo' already.
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