Pastoralists and Graziers Association convention: Good times ahead for WA’s northern pastoral industry

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
WA’s northern cattle industry is in ‘a really good place’, according to Nutrien Ag Solutions west region livestock manager Leon Giglia.
Camera IconWA’s northern cattle industry is in ‘a really good place’, according to Nutrien Ag Solutions west region livestock manager Leon Giglia. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

After “a couple of tough years”, the State’s northern cattle industry is in “a really good place”, according to WA livestock market guru Leon Giglia.

Things are looking good for sheep producers, too, with processors slowly but surely working their way through an ongoing backlog caused by a nationwide labour shortage.

Mr Giglia, who is Nutrien Ag Solutions’ west region livestock manager, made the comments during an optimistic presentation at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA’s annual convention in Perth on September 7.

“From a cattle point of view, the seasonal conditions continue to be strong in WA, with the Western Young Cattle Indicator having performed well over the last quarter,” he said.

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“For the past two years there’s no doubt the WA livestock market, particularly the cattle market, has been underpinned by the east coast (herd and flock) rebuild, with restockers and breeding enterprises strongly participating in the local market.”

Mr Giglia said this was now coming to an end, with most eastern restockers and breeding enterprises having sufficiently rebuilt.

The soaring cost of fuel was also making the prospect of transporting livestock across the nullabor “prohibitive”.

“The northern production systems, from a cattle point of view, are (receiving) average (rainfall) or just slightly above,” Mr Giglia said.

“Rainfall in some key calf production regions has been below, however, these regions are set to return to normal seasons.

“These regions, such as the East Kimberley and the Pilbara, account for a large number of our breeding stock.

“This area is suffering tough times and as primary producers, when we’re in tough times. . . one of the things we do is reduce our herd to retain only the best.”

Merino sheep on a station in WA’s north.
Camera IconMerino sheep on a station in WA’s north. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

However, thanks to strong domestic cattle and sheep prices, Mr Giglia said northern producers had been able to sell off “lesser types” of sheep and cattle “for a lot of great money”.

“What we’ve retained is some very good stock, and I think the quality of the flock — and in particular the quality of the herd — in the Pilbara and Kimberley in the last three or four years, with the introduction of some very good genetics, has put us in a really good place,” he said.

Mr Giglia said cold and wet winter conditions had dented the supply of lamb this season, with WA’s lamb market falling more than 21 per cent in the June quarter while the mutton price dropped about 19 per cent.

He said limited processor capacity — which at its height saw farmers waiting up to six weeks to secure a booking — would continue to be a challenge for sheep producers.

As well as the labour shortage, soaring energy costs and limited cold storage were also causing headaches for processors.

“The backlog of sheep placed great pressure on the feedlot sector, with a large number of old season lambs mounting,” Mr Giglia said.

“We’re slowly getting through that now and some of the first suckers are being slaughtered.

“It seems as if we’ve been able to avoid the extended carryover of old season lambs.”

Mr Giglia said the rebuilding of WA’s flock continued to be the main driver for sheep producers, with the retention of adult breeders reflected in the lower sheep supply.

“It’s estimated that the 2022 lamb drop is up 20 per cent on 2021, so we’ve got 20 per cent more lambs that we’re anticipating WA is going to need to market between now and the next season,” he said.

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