Graziers left scrambling on Indon cattle call

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The live export industry has warned it will take time to answer Indonesia's call for thousands of cattle to ease a beef shortage.

WA Livestock Export Association chairman John Edwards said yesterday the industry was scrambling to contact Indonesian importers to see if they had been issued with permits for the extra cattle.

"Until there is certainty that permits are available to importers and subsequently to exporters here, no one will charter or position a vessel or buy animals," Mr Edwards said.

Exporters also faced major hurdles in trying to fast track shipment approvals through the Federal Department for Agriculture and sourcing cattle ready for slaughter.

In a surprise move late last week, Jakarta said it needed an extra 25,000 cattle over the next three months and lifted the 350kg weight limit on the cattle.

It wants heavier cattle for immediate slaughter but WA producers are geared up to export lighter animals to Indonesia where they are usually fattened up in feedlots.

Beef prices have skyrocketed in Indonesia because of shortages created by an import quota system. The country is preparing for an important festival starting from August 7 to mark the end of Ramadan and beef is in high demand.

Mr Edwards and Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam said it would be difficult to source slaughter-weight cattle at short notice.

"Heavier cattle are being filtered out all the time to markets in Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, and a lot of people are not geared up to fattening cattle any more because of Indonesia's 350kg requirement," Mr Edwards said.

"So the cattle are just not waiting around windmills ready for mustering or sitting in an exporter's depot or in an on-station feedlot."

Mr Gillam said pastoralists in the West Kimberley and the Pilbara were among the best placed in Australia to take advantage of the increased demand from Indonesia.

He said unseasonal rain had given them an edge on other producers in northern Australia hit by dry conditions.

They also had good access to ports in Wyndham, Broome and Port Hedland.

WA-based Wellard's Ocean Drover is due to depart from Darwin today with a shipment of lighter steers sourced under the previous quota and weight restrictions.

"If the new permits are issued to our customers in time the vessel will be able to return to Darwin to load heavier cattle," Wellard chief executive Mauro Balzarini said.

There were unconfirmed reports from Indonesia that it had scrapped the import quota system introduced to grow the domestic beef industry, but widely blamed for the shortages and high prices.

Australia was exporting more than 500,000 cattle a year to Indonesia before the Federal Government's snap ban on the trade in 2011 over animal welfare concerns.

This year's quota was set at 267,000.

The cattle are just not waiting at windmills ready for mustering. " *John Edwards *

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