A WATTLE Range councillor and Millicent cattle producer is gathering support for a plan to extend the operations of the Millicent saleyards for another five years, with a crucial vote to take place at the council's February meeting.
The other main option on the table would see the saleyards cease operations completely in June.
The cattle selling facility has been beleaguered by questions of its future for several years, gaining two twelve-month extensions in the past two years after a motion was put forward in January 2019 to end its operation.
The motion from Wattle Range deputy mayor Moira Neagle - to continue the saleyards operations until June 30, 2025, develop a management plan for the facility, and consider an annual funding allocation for its upkeep - was set to be voted on last week, but a recently-completed infrastructure report has delayed proceedings and cast doubt on the potential outcome of the vote.
More than half a million dollars worth of infrastructure improvements, to be carried out in the next one to five years, were recommended by the report conducted by Steplen Constructions of Mount Gambier.
Voicing her opinion and not that of the council at large, Ms Neagle said not all of the works in the report were needed.
"We do need to do some fencing where stock are held overnight, the toilets and showers could do with an upgrade and the elevated walkway for auctioneers needs some attention," she said.
"But there are things on that list that would be nice to do, but are not needed.
"We certainly won't need to spend half a million dollars to keep the yards open."
Ms Neagle said when the January 2019 motion was put forward, the CEO said at the time that declining stock numbers would need to plateau or increase in order to keep these yards open.
From the 2018/19 financial year to 2019/20, sale days increased from 19 to 23, the total head of cattle sold rose from 8206 to 10,256 and total gross sales increased from $9.1 million to $13.6m.
"The number of vendors and the number of sales has increased and clearly the cattle market is hot to trot at the moment," Ms Neagle said.
"Buyers are very supportive. They have said to me that it's clearly not the biggest sale, but it's integral to getting high-quality stock.
"I'm urging farmers, if they want to keep these yards open, to call councillors and express their opinions on the matter otherwise they're voting blind."
Elders Millicent agent and head of the Millicent Combined Agents Scott Altschwager said the general consensus among agents and producers in the region was the saleyards should continue operating.
"We have been able to show some flexibility around sale days, falling back to Wednesday during winter to follow the Mount Gambier sale," he said.
"Buyers from there then travel to Millicent and that has been a real winner for saleyard throughput, competition on cattle and vendors and buyers.
"In the summer, we have a sale every fortnight on a Thursday morning and my view is that it should continue that way. The quality of the cattle out of this region attracts buyers here and they really like them."
Nutrien Millicent agent Jim Noonan said he believed the facility had a role to play within the range of selling options for local cattle producers.
He said while many larger operators would sell direct to processors, at larger store sales or over the hooks, the saleyards provided an option for smaller producers.
"It's a good service for the ratepayers," he said.
"We have quality stock coming through here and basically all the buyers who go to Naracoorte and Mount Gambier come here as well.
"The council hasn't maintained the yards and spent the money when they needed to in the past and now that there's a bit of money needing to be spent, they're jumping up and down."
THE large geographical area that Wattle Range Council encompasses means there are many differing views on the viability and worth of the Millicent saleyards among councillors and community members, according to Council chief executive officer Ben Gower.
Mr Gower said an informal gathering would be held today for councillors to debate performance figures and infrastructure recommendations at length before February's council meeting and final vote.
"There are 11 individuals who will make this decision and some will be concerned about spending money and some are going to be in favour of spending the money," he said.
"It's where the balance of those views land as to where the decision will end up. We've got an informed group on council so it should be a good debate and interesting to see where it lands.
"The saleyards, being in Millicent, tend to draw from the coast through and everything that's in the east of the council area either goes to Naracoorte or Mount Gambier.
"Ratepayers in the east see the saleyards running at a loss and wants to see them closed to save money, while the Millicent-based group want to see it open to provide a service."
Annual financial figures - excluding depreciation - show the saleyards ran at a $180,163 loss in 2017/18, with the bleeding stemmed somewhat with a $101,839 loss in 2019/20.
Mr Gower said financial and stock volumes had stabilised in the past two years after an eight per cent decline year on year for about a decade, saying a group of agents, buyers and farmers had rallied once the yards' death knell had been sounded.
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