Sheep council set for restructure

Rueben HaleCountryman

WA’s declining sheep population has driven the winds of change for the State’s sheep industry.

This week, a meeting of executives from all sectors of the WA sheep industry supply chain agreed to restructure the Sheep Industry Leadership Council in the interests of generating sustainable industry growth in the face of declining sheep population.

The meeting was attended by representatives from WAFarmers, Pastoralists and Graziers Association, WA Livestock Research Council, Australian Association of Agricultural Consultants WA, the Grower Group Alliance, DAFWA, WA Department of Health Southern Integrated Research Organisation, University of WA, Murdoch University, The Muresk Institute, Emanuel Exports, Wellard Group, Western Australian Meat Marketing Co-operative Limited, Rural Export & Trading (WA), PJ Morris and Swan Wools.

Domestic processing drove a huge increase in the value of WA’s sheep industry exports last year, but the size of the State’s flock continues to fall.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the value of lamb exports jumped 78 per cent to $200 million in 2013-14.

Mutton exports increased 37 per cent in value to $124 million and wool exports were up 4 per cent to $425 million.

Live exports went against the trend, with the value of shipments from WA down 4 per cent to $160 million.

The ABS estimates the size of the WA flock dropped from 15.5 million head to 14.2 million in the year to June 30, including a fall in the number of breeding ewes to 7.9 million. WA was home to 26 million sheep just 15 years ago.

DAFWA grains and livestock executive director Peter Metcalfe said in recent times, the sheep industry did not have the confidence to invest in new technologies and expand the flock.

“The opportunities are in the sheep meat area and we are looking to get more of an industry supply chain where producers and processors can share in some of the risks and the benefits,” he said.

“DAFWA generates the flock numbers (data) for WA and has been concerned about the decline in sheep numbers. We understand that growers want a return on effort. We see in a whole-of-supply-chain response the establishment of an overarching industry group so decisions can be made that benefit all proponents of the supply chain, similar to what has been achieved at Grains Industry WA.”

The SILC was formed by the State Government in 2011, with a charter to create and oversee the strategy of helping lift the WA sheep industry’s productivity and growth.

However, a review has highlighted the council’s current structure doesn’t provide sufficient linkages to industry groups, processors and live exporters and at a meeting this week, a restructure has been proposed and unanimously endorsed, that will deliver best-possible engagement and ownership of all relevant parties.

The revamped body will be known as The Sheep Alliance of WA, where membership is open to all entities that are key contributors to the WA sheep supply chain and/or working towards improving the industry’s profitability.

All current SILC director positions will be spilled and alliance members will be called upon to provide nominations for the governing board.

This will be augmented by an open call for nominations later this month.

Central to the revamp has been the resolution around the purpose, accountability and performance of the organisation, which has core funding from DAFWA through Royalties for Regions until June 2018.

While the revamped entity is at this stage sheep specific, industry leaders attending the meeting agreed the opportunity to broaden the scope of the group to all livestock, would be encouraged at the two-year review point.

According to outgoing SILC chairman Rob Warburton, the driver for change has been the increasing concern from all sectors of the supply chain around the Deparment of Agriculture and Food WA-forecasted continued sheep population decline and the potential ramification this has on industry profitability.

“We have brought all members of the sheep supply chain to the table together with our two lobby groups, our research, extension and education providers, our business consultants, several grower groups and government — and agreed that the best hope we have of making a difference, is if we collaborate.

“The driving force behind this has been the engagement of the live sheep exporters, sheep meat processors and wool exporters whose level of alarm at the trends has meant we have their full attention and cooperation,” Mr Warburton said.

It is proposed that the alliance will attempt to arrest the decline by reviewing and proposing governance over the current sheep industry plan and vision, taking on the responsibility of providing a business case for the development of a sheep business centre to co-ordinate research, development and evaluation activities that will help arrest the sheep population decline and become more closely involved with the activities funded by DAFWA’s $10 million Sheep Industry Business Innovation Project.

It is anticipated that a new board and chair will be in place by July, effective at the group’s Annual General Meeting.

The meeting named WAMMCO chairman Craig Heggaton to take on the role of chair of the transition sub-committee, leading up to the re-launch under the name of The Sheep Alliance of WA at the AGM.

Executive officer Esther Jones, who with DAFWA has led the WA dairy industry’s RD&E restructure, has welcomed the changes, which she says provide the ideal foundation for generating a culture of industry collaboration with the capacity to drive change.

“Under the banner of The Sheep Alliance of WA, we will be able to communicate as an entire sector; and be a body of influence to work with farm lobby groups and all members of the supply chain,” Ms Jones said.

“This new structure provides me with the systems and accountability that enable us to communicate with the confidence we have all players on the WA sheep team on the same page.

“There is so much activity going on at present, at universities and at DAFWA, that has the capacity to influence sheep productivity on farm, but what is lacking is the co-ordinated communication of those activities.

“All of our sheep industry entities and projects need to be able to champion these activities, which then enables the communication rubber to hit the road.”

“All entities that meet the membership criteria will be encouraged to join, as the mechanism to guarantee direct communication between all parties.”

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