Hard times ahead, warn WA graziers

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

Despite the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia being lifted, Kimberley pastoralists are predicting there are harder times to come.

Like others in the industry, Nita Downs pastoralists Damian and Kirsty Forshaw are wondering when the first boat to Indonesia will leave.

Ms Forshaw said while the lifting of the export ban initially boosted their morale, the reality was kicking in on how much danger the industry was still in.

“Some of us are starting to think we won’t get any cattle away before the wet season, ” she said.

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“Most of us are mustering, but just to get the weaners off. There is a possibility of another boat for Egypt but that’s not confirmed yet.”

Without the certainty of stock agents coming out to stations to buy cattle, many pastoralists cannot justify the cost of keeping cattle in yards ready for export.

With hay costing an average of $300 a bale, keeping their cattle in yards would cost the Forshaws about $10,000 each muster.

Ms Forshaw said pastoralists were also facing a dilemma in that many cattle were now too heavy for the Indonesian market.

“The decision to send this stock south will depend on how good the next wet season is, ” she said.

“At the moment, we are waiting and staying positive. The banks and our suppliers are being reasonably flexible but this will wear out.”

Ms Forshaw said the real worry was if the coming wet season failed — pastoralists’ fuel costs would increase because of pumping water for cattle.

The amount of feed available may also lead to an influx of cattle heading south.

“The real cracks will start to appear over and after the wet season, ” Ms Forshaw said. “The three-week ban on exports is likely to have more than an 18-month fallout. The problems aren’t immediate.”

Broome Landmark livestock agent Andrew Stewart said July was traditionally an extremely busy month for cattle loading out of Broome, with more than 18,000 head exported by Landmark, in July 2010.

In contrast, so far this July about 2000 cattle had been bought by Landmark agents to send south as slaughter cattle.

“It has been disturbingly quiet this July, ” Mr Stewart said.

He said in the past five years, 80 per cent of the cattle exported from Broome were destined for Indonesia.

“We have had a couple of boats earlier this year heading for North Africa, ” Mr Stewart said. “We are hoping to see another boat docking in Broome by the end of August.”

Mr Stewart said pastoralists were considering any markets they could to sell cattle to, but the uncertainty surrounding the Indonesian market meant there were not too many buyers interested in store cattle.

“The impact of the ban on cattle exports to Indonesia will go beyond this year. Next year will be just as difficult, but hopefully there will be more markets for Kimberley cattle, ” he said.

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