Farmers brace for export pain

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Cascade farmer Scott Pickering wants to get his sheep away quickly.
Camera IconCascade farmer Scott Pickering wants to get his sheep away quickly. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

North-west of Esperance, Merino breeder Scott Pickering is loading a truck with sheep destined for WAMMCO at Katanning.

He is keen to get them gone and receive a decent price for them in case the fallout from the ongoing live sheep export saga affects the market.

The Cascade farmer and his family operate Derella Downs Merino and Pyramid Poll studs on their property.

Their focus is on producing sheep that cut good wool, and meat to grace the tables of people in Australia and the world.

Mr Pickering firmly believes that WA sheep producers will suffer a great loss if the live export market for sheep disappears as a viable option, and has no reservations in his condemnation of the State Government in dealing with recent events that have shaken the industry to its core.

Mr Pickering’s sheep being loaded on the truck on Tuesday morning were culled ewes — those not in lamb that could be sold to WAMMCO for $4.20/kg, a reasonable price at a time when Mr Pickering expects prices to fall without the competition from buyers filling live-export orders.

On Tuesday, the atmosphere in his sheep yards was one of disappointment and anger.

The driver who was helping load the sheep said he was dissatisfied with the recent turn of events and both lay the blame for the state of the live sheep export industry in WA firmly at the doorstep of the State Government, and WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

Mr Pickering said while Ms MacTiernan claimed her Government had taken steps to provide the capability for the industry to survive, he felt that she had shown no support for WA farmers, or an understanding of the plight they found themselves in.

“The blame for the situation we have found ourselves in today lies fairly and squarely at the feet of the WA Government,” he said.

“They have put at risk an industry worth between $180 million and $200 million to the State, with about 85 per cent of the sheep exported coming out of WA.

“She has never liked live export; she should be supporting WA producers, not working against us.”

Mr Pickering conceded that the Federal Government, as the body responsible for monitoring the welfare of sheep exported, was also at least partly responsible for the damage being done to the industry and producers in the wake of incidents like that covered in the recent 60 Minutes program which revealed conditions on-board the Awassi Express.

He also agreed that live exporters should have heeded the warnings given and listened to advice with regard to improvements they needed to make to their operations.

But he believes all sheep producers will be affected by absence of the live-export players in the market, with the lack of competition for sheep bound to put downward pressure on prices.

“I am certainly not condoning the events of the past,” Mr Pickering said.

“But if we over-regulate this market, they will go elsewhere for their sheep, then it will be a case of out of sight, out of mind; other countries won’t care about the stock.

“Who will look after the safety and welfare of the animals then?”

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