Summer live sheep export ban causes unease

Zach RelphCountryman
Kojonup sheep farmer Alex Cant farmers were paid more for wool it would help to increase sheep numbers across Australia.
Camera IconKojonup sheep farmer Alex Cant farmers were paid more for wool it would help to increase sheep numbers across Australia.

A sense of unease covers WA’s live sheep industry leading into next year’s three-month northern summer stall, with producers declaring the ban underpins short-term planning but does not secure the trade’s long-term future.

Exporters revealed earlier this month a ban on live sheep shipments to the Middle East would be imposed from June 1, 2019, to reduce the likelihood of animal fatalities on heat-riddled voyages.

The decision, expected to rip $55 million annually from the nation’s live sheep industry, will be implemented under Australian Livestock Exporters Council’s new mandatory code of conduct.

Long-time producer Alex Cant runs between 7000 to 8000 wethers at his Broomehill property, with up to 2000 of the flock’s older sheep sold into the live export market each year.

Following the northern summer moratorium announcement, Mr Cant said he and wife Judy had opted to delay selling their wethers to exporters until 2020 after the landmark three-month ban ended.

“We will wait until January or February, in 2020, when the summer ban is finished to sell,” Mr Cant, a veteran Great Southern farmer of more than 50 years, told Countryman.

“The ban is pretty serious, especially from a WA perspective.

“The producer that can’t produce a prime animal from July to October are the ones who are going to take a knock.”

Cruel vision from Emanuel Exports’ now-infamous Awassi Express voyage, released in April, threw WA’s live sheep trade into turmoil amid animal activists’ pleas to dock all sheep vessels destined for the Middle East.

Farmer Grantly Marinoni.
Camera IconFarmer Grantly Marinoni. Credit: Countryman

Since then, Federal Labor has remained staunch behind threats to phase out the industry within five years, if successful in toppling the Morrison Government at next year’s election.

Kojonup farmer Grantly Marinoni — who has a mixed sheep-cropping operation — said he was concerned the three-month ban was a temporary solution.

Mr Marinoni said he feared the moratorium would force Middle Eastern consumers to source Merino wethers from countries with lesser animal welfare standards than Australia.

“The northern summer ban is almost a band-aid fix,” he said.

“If the Middle East still require sheep at that time of the year, they’ll get them from somewhere else instead of our backyard.

“It is a very political issue, but the measures are in place to ensure safe voyages and they need to be adhered to.”

Brookton sheep-grain farmer Murray Hall hosted Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud at his Wheatbelt property last month during the Nationals member’s whirlwind WA visit.

Mr Hall said the agricultural industry’s delay in enforcing swift action after the Awassi Express footage was released had a further impact on live export’s social licence.

However, he said the voyage embargo demonstrated the want to keep the trade alive despite Federal Labor’s intention to end it.

“I believe that the live export industry has been too slow to move,” he said.

“Complete and open transparency is needed from now on.

“We can’t have this trade continue as it has done, but we can’t turn it off without consequences.

“What I really fear is ill-informed Eastern States crossbenchers and politicians from both sides making decisions when they haven’t investigated the downstream consequences, including environmental impacts and pressure on the flock in a de-stocked situation, and what it means for WA.”

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