WA pastoralists expect more dry spells

Zach RelphCountryman
Persistent lack of rainfall hampered the State’s rangelands last year.
Camera IconPersistent lack of rainfall hampered the State’s rangelands last year. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr

WA pastoralists are bracing for another hot season in the aftermath of an extended dry spell which plagued northern cattle operations.

Persistent lack of rainfall and soaring mercury, at times above 50C, hampered the State’s rangelands last year, with leaseholders toiling to maintain cattle in the unseasonable conditions.

Wiluna pastoralist Len Snell placed a primary focus on maintaining water points at his Wongawol and Carnegie stations, north-east of the gold mining town, for his herd of about 6000 Shorthorns.

Mr Snell backgrounds cattle more than 1250km south-west of Wongawol and Carnegie at his Waroona-based farming properties, before live exporting through Fremantle Port.

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The veteran pastoralist said he was expecting another tough season ahead, but remained hopeful there would be more rainfall.

“The unseasonal have made it hard,” Mr Snell said.

“This year coming is also going to be a tough one, if the weather is the same.”

AtMundabullangana Station, about 100km south-west of Port Hedland, pastoralist Michael Thompson is also emerging from tough unseasonal weather.

The cattle producer, who runs about 6000 Droughtmaster breeders at the Pilbara pastoral lease, endured parched conditions before being battered by cyclone Veronica in late March.

Mr Thompson said last year’s dry weather had forced many pastoralists to delay sending cattle to export in an attempt to improve specification.

“With the north being so dry, some waited to ship because the cattle were out of spec,” he said.

According to Meat and Livestock Australia’s latest figures, overall cattle export figures from the nation’s shores have increased 21 per cent year-on-year, rising by 271,428 head.

Majority of the spike in the first quarter of 2019 was driven by increased shipments from Queensland and Victoria.

However, data showed cattle departures from Fremantle spiked 5 per cent to 53,844 cattle from January 1 to the end of March, with a further 7849 head shipped from Kimberley Port Authority’s Broome Port.

Figures from the Pilbara Ports Authority-controlled Port of Port Hedland were not included in the MLA report, but 3552 head had been shipped from the maritime facility in the first quarter.

PPA live export manager Jon Giles said the shipment was due to Queensland’s disastrous floods.

“We will continue to liaise with partners in the export chain to facilitate any opportunities that arise,” he said.

The MV Devon Express was the sole ship to depart the Cambridge Gulf Limited-controlled Wyndham Port, carrying 2840 cattle en route to Indonesia.

At the Mid West Ports Authority’s Port of Geraldton, 1845 were shipped in the first quarter.

Despite the national shipping hike, the levels have not reached the lofty heights experienced in 2016 when more than 300,000 head were exported from January to March.

Although the Australia-wide has increased, shipments from the usually-busy Northern Territory have decreased, after exports from Darwin Port fell 14 per cent to 78,475 head.

Cattle exports at Townsville rose 18 per cent to 58,585 head, while 35,972 cattle were sent from Portland in Victoria to mark a 45 per cent rise.

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