WAMMCO bid to truck in lambs

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Sheep from the eastern states could be soon trucked across the border to be processed in WA, as processors battle supply shortages.

The member-owned WAMMCO International has submitted a proposal to the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) to import lambs from the eastern states direct for slaughter in Katanning.

WAMMCO chief executive Scott Weir said it was just one option being considered to ensure continuity of supply and may never eventuate.

“It’s a complex subject and if we can make it work commercially, our main concern is to meet all the protocol that is necessary to ensure there are no concerns but we believe we can do it, ” he said.

Mr Weir would not comment on how many lambs could be imported but Countryman understands it would depend on the how the spring flush of lambs panned out.

The processor will also operate its feedlot again this year which provides a week’s worth of stock.

Mr Weir, who recently joined WAMMCO, said his focus was to encourage people to carry more sheep in WA and increase productivity.

A DAFWA spokeswoman said a risk assessment for the proposal had been conducted.

“The department is now looking at changes to the conditions of entry and movement to the abattoir that adequately manage the risk of introduction of weed seeds, liver fluke and virulent footrot and is consulting with stakeholders before making a recommendation, ” she said.

WA sheep processors have been hit hard by the shortage of sheep.

From July 2010 to April, 1.24 million sheep and lambs were trucked east between July and April compared to 150,000 for the 2009–10 financial year.

With spring just two weeks away, processors are only just starting to open their doors after winter shutdowns and the season is getting off to a slow start.

WAMMCO was closed for three weeks and used product from its newly acquired Goulburn sheep and lamb processor Southern Meats to supply export markets.

Beaufort River Meats closed in March and said it should re-open in a month while Fletcher International opened last week after eight and a half weeks of shutdown.

Hillside Abattoir in Narrogin declined to comment.

If WAMMCO’s request is approved, it could open the door for other processors to do the same and the price of lamb could fall.

Beaufort River Meats owner Joe Macri said the high Australian dollar and shortage, which was pushing up WA prices, was making it difficult.

To be viable, Mr Macri said prices for lambs need to be similar to the eastern states. WA trade lambs last week averaged 635c/kg compared to the national figure of 494c/kg.

One processor that will not import sheep from the east is Fletcher International.

General manager Greg Cross said in the short term, supply would be tough but bringing in sheep from the east would be costly.

“Put aside the quarantine aspect, the cost per head to bring sheep across the border would be like burning dollars with no result, ” he said.

“We’d only be kidding ourselves if we though processors over there, who are faced with supply shortages as well, are going to let us tap into their supply and push up prices.”

Mr Cross said Fletcher’s focus to lift production was to address the six B-Train loads of sheep condemned a year.

To do this, they are in the process of putting in place a feedback system to tell farmers what is being downgraded or condemned and why, to help improve nonfarm animal husbandry.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails