Live sheep demise will put pressure on prices

Live sheep demise will put too much pressure on domestic market says WA Farmers president

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WA Farmers president says scrapping live exports will only increase pressure on domestic markets.

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WA Farmers president Rhys Turton. Mr Turton said the live sheep trade had supported all of the recommendations put forward after the release of the McCarthy review 12 months ago.

WA Farmers president Rhys Turton. Mr Turton said the live sheep trade had supported all of the recommendations put forward after the release of the McCarthy review 12 months ago.

WA Farmers president Rhys Turton has warned scrapping the live sheep trade will put immense economic pressure on the domestic Australian market.

Last week Labor's agricultural spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon reaffirmed his commitment to shut down the live sheep trade saying after full consideration of the science it was not possible to continue with the trade while also meeting reasonable science based community expectations.

Mr Turton said he hoped Labor were not being swayed by a minority of activists and that the decision was indeed based on science and animal ethics.

"Labor have been quite emphatic that if they form government live sheep exports will be phased out," Mr Turton said.

"If the industry can't convince them otherwise perhaps in five years time we will have to live with a different world.

"But as an industry we believe the live sheep trade is quite sustainable given the changes that have been made."

Mr Turton said the live sheep trade had supported all of the recommendations put forward after the release of the McCarthy review 12 months ago.

"We supported the independent inspectors on the boats, the reduced stocking rates and improved ventilation in vessels," he said.

"We were also happy to support the three-month summer ban, but certainly not any longer than three months.

"It wasn't as if we stuck a stake in the ground and said 'we are going to fight to the end'".

But he admitted the industry could not walk away from its responsibilities surrounding animal welfare.

"We received a kick up the backside with the footage that came out of the Awassie Express in 2017, but what we have also learnt, beyond that day, was that some of that footage was allegedly doctored to make it look worse than what it actually was," Mr Turton said.

"In the last seven years and particularly in the last 12 months, there has been some great initiatives that have come through that have made it a sustainable industry.

"I think the industry as a whole has taken a responsible approach to how it needs to go forward."

Mr Turton said an end to the live trade would mean a significant loss of competition in the WA market and downward pressure on prices.

He questioned whether processors could handle "a couple million sheep overnight".

"They do struggle to get local workers into the meat industry and I overhear it relies on a lot of overseas VISAS to fill those gaps," he said.

"It might require some government intervention to assist in filling the gaps in the workforce."

In a two-part report by Mecardo, analyst Matt Dalgleish said without a live export option in the west, prices over there are likely to be cheaper than in the east more often, and discounted more heavily.

"Assuming a worst-case scenario during the adjustment phase of a live export closure, whereby all WA sheep that would have gone to the live trade make their way into eastern markets, this could mean around 1.5 million extra sheep hitting east coast markets for the next few years while the WA industry adjusts," Mr Dalgleish said.

He reported while the impact on the east coast mutton market appears minimal, unless large numbers of sheep cross the Nullarbor, previous modelling undertaken by Mecardo on the impact of a phase-out of the live trade on WA demonstrated that producers there would face an 18-35pc decline in saleyard prices.

"Furthermore, the closure of the live sheep industry would also have a significant impact upon supply chain participants in WA, such as transport operators, fodder suppliers, vets, livestock agents, livestock exporters and other members of the regional communities that rely on the trade," Mr Dalgleish said.

But WA Meat Marketing Co-operative (WAMMCO) chairman Craig Heggaton believes the processing sector was ready and said the live sheep trade had been in decline for a decade,

"Over a period of time, the processing works here in WA can gear up and take that extra number of sheep - it's not a huge number," he said.

"Fifteen years ago we were exporting about six million sheep out of Australia through the live export industry each year.

"Last year 1.7 million sheep were exported, of which 90 per cent came out of WA, it has been a long-term decline."

Mr Heggaton believes the biggest problem the sheep industry has is the lack of numbers.

"During the boom of wool industry in 1990 we had 180 million sheep in Australia, so the biggest threat to the industry is not losing the live sheep export trade, it is a lack of sheep numbers in general," he said.

"In my opinion, the demise of the live sheep export industry, provided producers take a pragmatic view of it and consider adjusting their production systems, it is not going to affect it to any large degree."

Mr Heggaton, who own processing works in Katanning WA and Goulburn NSW, said getting enough stock to keep the works open was often an issue.

"A lot of the processors are doing it tough at the moment because they just can't get enough stock," he said.

A sheep producer himself, primarily targeting the prime lamb market, Mr Heggaton believes producers have lost their social licence to export sheep.

"It has been very good to us for a long time, but I don't think we can run the chance of something like what aired on 60 Minutes happening again," Mr Heggaton said.

He suggested sheep producers look at altering their production systems and either be prepared to sell those unfinished stock that are not quite fit for slaughter to people that are prepared to finish them.

"Or they have to be prepared to change their genetics to produce a more marketable product that is going to suit the slaughter industry," Mr Heggaton said.

"Basically a finished prime lamb will bring more money in a slaughterable state than we are through live export."

The story Live sheep demise will put pressure on prices first appeared on Farm Online.

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