Reports mixed on the state of live cattle trade

Nationals Leader Warren Truss claims live cattle exports are struggling at half capacity as Wellard reports shipment record

Reports mixed on the state of live cattle trade
Reports mixed on the state of live cattle trade

By Anna Game-Lopata | September 20, 2011

Only 60,000 head have been transported at a time of year when our live cattle exporters would normally be sending more than double that number, according to
Nationals Leader Warren Truss.

Truss says last year, in excess of 172,000 head were exported to Indonesia from June through September.

"Just a trickle of Australian cattle have been shipped to Indonesia since the Gillard government reopened the live trade 11 weeks ago,"
he says.

"Last Friday Special Minister of State Gary Gray was positively boasting about the export of just 13,500 head from Wyndham and Broome in WA, with another 8,100 to go," he says.

"Well, I’m not impressed and neither are northern Australia’s cattle producers or the myriad small businesses and communities that rely on the trade and have been left in the lurch by the Gillard government."

Meanwhile live cattle export giant Wellard Group last week reported a new world record for the largest shipment ever set by the MV Ocean Shearer and Queensland and Northern Territory cattle producers.

Wellard says a total of 24,683 steers and heifers were loaded on board the vessel in Townsville and Darwin, breaking the previous record of 23,372 cattle set by the same vessel in July 2008.

The Wellard-owned and operated vessel, the largest livestock vessel in the world, set sail from Darwin for the Indonesian ports of Jakarta and Panjang.

"Queensland producers loaded 6,465 cattle in Townsville late last week, while a further 18,218 feeder cattle were loaded in Darwin by Wellard Rural Exports and another exporter," the company says.

"They will be supplied to Indonesian customers that have previously received Australian cattle under Australia’s new export regulations and new importers that have recently completed a successful independent audit of their animal welfare and traceability systems.

In addition, one of Wellard’s newest vessels, the MV Ocean Swagman, is due to load approximately 7000 cattle in Darwin early next week.

It has just completed a voyage to the Philippines largely with cattle that had outgrown Indonesia’s 350 kilogram weight limit during the recent trade suspension.

Wellard Rural Exports Managing Director Steve Meerwald says the large shipment will assist with the restocking of part of the disrupted Indonesian cattle pipeline, but concedes a return to more ‘normal’ trading would
take time.

"We are continuing to work with our Indonesian customers to get more feedlots and abattoirs accredited to meet the new Australian guidelines so we can increase cattle supply to Indonesia and purchases from Australian stations," he says.

adds the ability to set the new world record was aided by the fact that ship has never been filled to capacity and the imposition of Indonesia’s 350 kilogram weight limit which has caused a reduction in the size of the cattle on-board.

Despite the record cargo, the vessel was loaded at less than 80 per cent of her capacity when she sailed, allowing the crew to allocate each animal significantly more space than the Australian regulatory standards prescribe.

But Warren Truss claims on current pace, around 250,000 head of cattle will remain stranded in Australia, unable to be exported, as the wet season descends next month.

"The situation across the north will undoubtedly get worse before it gets any better," he says.

"It begs the so-far unresolved question of what to do with cattle that do not make it to market?

"They will require feed into the New Year, by which time the animals will be well over the 350kg limit for trade with Indonesia.

While producers may try other live markets, those exports come in dribs and drabs, leaving producers to eye the southern Australian market.

"The problem for producers is that many have multi-million dollar loans based on the $2 per kilo price they would expect to get from the Indonesian market," Truss says.

"Selling northern cattle into southern domestic markets will fetch significantly less – some suggesting around $1.40 per kilo.

"When you factor in the added cost of transporting cattle north-to-south over land across 2,000 kilometers, the losses keep compounding. It’s a diabolical position for cattle producers."

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