Export ban has pastoralists considering culls

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

The suspension on live exports to Indonesia is putting Kimberley pastoralists in a heartbreaking position, with shooting excess cattle becoming a reality for some.

Many pastoralists are considering their limited options to reduce numbers and therefore grazing pressure on their properties.

Earlier this week, Nico Botha, from Moola Bulla Station near Halls Creek, said he had decided to shoot close to 3000 head of his older cows.

The hard decision was made in order to reduce grazing pressure over the station and avoid any animal welfare problems these older animals were likely to suffer later in the season.

Landmark Broome livestock agent Andrew Stewart said Mr Botha had made the commercial decision the cattle were to be shot rather than let them die when the season deteriorated.

Mr Stewart said the decision was being made as a result of the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia with heavy cull cows previously destined to this market.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if more pastoralists made the decision to shoot cattle rather than truck them south.

A spokesman for Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the minister had launched into action to help Mr Botha as soon as he heard about the claims.

Senator Ludwig has contacted both Centrelink and the Cattle Council of Australia and asked them to get in touch with the farmer to offer their assistance.

“The Agriculture Minister’s office will continue to monitor this situation, ” the spokesman said.

Pastoralist and Graziers Association pastoral president Ruth Webb-Smith said this situation caused by the continued closure of live cattle exports to Indonesia would affect all stations in northern Australia.

She said individual stations would have to make its own decisions on the best way to deal with reduced feed and an excess of cattle.

“We are seeing an economic, environmental and social disaster unfolding in northern Australia, ” Mrs Webb-Smith said.

“People are really hurting across the north and we have seen nothing done by the Federal Government to lift the bans it has put in place.

“Instead, they are just sitting on their hands and saying a few catch phrases.”

Mrs Webb-Smith said the situation now was that even if exports were re-opened to Indonesia, the numbers going out would be such a small trickle that it would not undo the damage already done to the north’s cattle industry.

She said the option of sending cattle down south to abattoirs was uneconomical with payment likely to be a “pittance” because the market was flooded and northern Australian cattle genetics were not what local processors were looking for.

Pastoralist John Henwood, from Fossil Downs station near Fitzroy Crossing, said shooting cattle had been discussed in light of the ban on trade with Indonesia.

“The biggest problem now is the feed starts to get too rank and that is when cattle weights deteriorate, ” Mr Henwood said.

“Each station is in a different situation so I can’t talk for all, but we have decided to keep our cattle alive if we can.”

Mr Henwood said each day that passed without the ban being lifted meant cattle that were destined for Indonesia risked getting too heavy for this market.

He said he had faith in Meat and Livestock Australia that they were doing everything they could to re-open the market.

In the meantime, Mr Henwood said the compensation offered to the industry last week from the Federal Government was just a “drop in the ocean” and should have been used in Indonesia to get abattoirs to OIE standards.

Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) manager of public affairs Eric Roberts said ILC pastoral stations were facing the same problems as the rest of the pastoral industry when it came to cattle management.

Mr Roberts said they had not had to make the decision to truck cattle south or shoot any at this stage.

“We are continuing our cattle operations as normal, cattle still need to be looked after with mustering, feeding and watering continuing, ” Mr Roberts said.

“We are watching how the situation with Indonesia develops like everybody else.”

Mr Roberts said both WA pastoral properties Roebuck Plains and Home Valley Station were also indigenous employment training centres, which meant that because of separate funding arrangements these programs were continuing unabated.

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