At a time when major participants fear the Australian trade in exported live sheep is watching the barrel of a dying industry, a man says there is no way the Middle East market will s away from Australia’s westernmost state.
WA producer and director of the Livestock Collective, Stephen Bolt, said that although the trade faces challenges, the export of live animals is essential to the preservation of the whole sheep industry of the State.
“There is no doubt that there is still huge demand from the Middle East region,” Bolt said.
“But they are certainly challenged with the prices they have to pay to successfully get the sheep out of WA.
“At the moment they have access to sheep from other parts of the world to meet their needs, but there is no way the Middle East market will move away from WA.”
Trade statistics from the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) reveal live sheep exports started in 2022 up year-on-year, but numbers are still good below pre-Covid-19 levels.
However, for the first two months of the campaign, exports to Kuwait have represented 70.2% of flows to date.
In fact, live export volumes since the start of 2022 to Kuwait are 83% above the five-year average for the first two months of the year.
Since 2018, Kuwaiti demand for Australian sheep has been on a steady growth trajectory, in terms of total trade market share, rising from 22% in 2018 to 41.6% in 2020.
And in 2021, flows to Kuwait from Australia amounted to 60.4%.
Mr. Bolt said that in the long term, due to the best facilities, the quality of the sheep, the absence of disease risk and a well-organized supply chain, the Middle East preference will continue to be the sheep of WA.
But just a decade ago, the live sheep export industry was both an East Coast and a West Coast affair.
In 2011, approximately 30% of live sheep export volumes left the country from ports outside of Western Australia.
However, as of 2018 the trade is predominantly a Western Australian-led industry, with 98% of the annual export of live sheep coming from the west.
The option of live export sales offered to WA producers was a crucial element in the effective management of their herd, especially during difficult seasons.
But since the introduction of the Middle East and North Africa summer trade moratorium in 2018, disabled volumes of the live fish export sector in WA have fallen to just 12% of the annual total .
Last year, 575,000 sheep were sent overseas, its lowest number since 1989, according to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
Although the industry has been impacted by global demand factors including the moratorium and the Covid-19 pandemic, this also reflects domestic herd supply.
Thomas Elder Market analyst Matt Dalgleish said that before the moratorium more than a million head had left Australian shores.
“Over the past year and a half, around two million sheep have moved east from WA, particularly to NSW,” Mr Dalgleish said.
“Some of those numbers would have historically been live and price-wise, which has supported the WA market.
“But from a WA grower’s perspective, you can’t count on the East to take all the volumes that live export volumes used to take.
“And with volumes dwindling for live-ex, how long is that sustainable as an industry in WA?”
Mr Bolt said there was no doubt that the ewe base in WA had declined significantly, but there were a number of pressures influencing those numbers.
“Live-ex has always been there when we have the ability to turn off a lot of weather, especially when the season is tough on food or a late break,” Bolt said.
“But our biggest challenge here is competition for land use. We’ve seen a huge shift in crops in some of these large sheep areas.
“More than anything, we’ve had a few poor feeding seasons here, so the reduction in numbers came from a large number of ewes heading east, which has drastically reduced the number of breeding ewes in WA. “
He said that apart from the struggle for land and a string of less than favorable seasons, the dwindling number of shearers in Australia is also a major threat within the industry.
Feds under pressure to allow access for skilled workers to keep shears rattling
And unless the industry can resolve these issues and stabilize the numbers, the WA breeding herd will continue to decline, he said.
“It’s hard to get precise numbers on the number of ewes in the state, but I suspect that over the last three or four years we’ve abandoned 25% of our ewe base in WA,” a- he declared.
“The data speaks of around six million ewes, but I suspect it is less than that.
“The number of live sheep and the reduction in the number of sheep available for travel through live export reflects the decrease in the number of breeding ewes.”
Will a reduced moratorium save the industry?
If the current three-month moratorium window holds, business leaders fear the sector will continue to shrink in the west, as it has in eastern states.
Mr Dalgleish thinks the sector needs a month-long moratorium to survive.
“If the three-month moratorium window on the live sheep trade continues, the industry will starve until there is nothing left,” Mr Dalgleish said.
“Beyond a month-long moratorium, you have supply chain issues, but also issues like not being able to maintain shearing crews in WA.
“There are transport operators who transported almost exclusively live animals, they have had to change and pivot their activities to include traditional transport of livestock, but in WA it is somewhat limited.
But Mr Bolt dismissed claims that the trade would disappear if the three-month moratorium continued.
He said that since the moratorium was put in place, the industry has demonstrated that it can successfully transport sheep safely to the Middle East market.
“The reduction in stocking density has resulted in a significant increase in welfare outcomes and the industry supports the changes that have been made,” he said.
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He said the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) had advised the three-month moratorium period was appropriate, but admits there needs to be more work in the area. .
One idea is the possibility of reducing the time by at least two weeks, especially on the front-end.
“While waiting for this break in the season, the last ship leaving at the end of May becomes quite difficult for producers to make decisions about holding or selling sheep,” Bolt said.
“If we get a late break in the season, it doesn’t give us the chance to offload.
“If that happens, it leads to more welfare issues on the farm, where producers end up transporting extra livestock, which impacts the ewes and lambs that are already on the farm.”
The true value of live-ex
The cultural demand of countries in the Middle East means that they will always seek access to live sheep, regardless of their origin in the world.
“Live trading has been around for a long time and it will continue to be around,” Bolt said.
“Australia has and will continue to set this global standard for live export transport.
“I think it’s extremely important that we continue to be in this space as global leaders over time.”
NSW sheep producer and director of the Australian Woolen Producers Association (AWGA), Charles “Chick” Olsson, said the trade was key to sharing ideas and changing behaviour.
He said that over the past 20 years many Australian vets, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade(DFAT)professionals, farmers and ranchers traveled with Australian sheep and cattle to export destinations.
“It’s been a low-key, no-nonsense approach to helping other countries with a new idea about animal welfare practices,” Mr Olsson said.
“Australia is the only country doing it. Who else will do it unless it’s us and how can the world ever improve its welfare practices unless there is a way to do?”
He said as appalling as some of the images have been in the past, the overall benefit of exporting live has been immense for all economies involved.
“Live-ex is more than just an economic decision, it’s actually an effective way to enhance the role of humanities by treating our livestock better and sharing real ideas for a better world,” he said. -he declares.
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The story The voice of the industry says it’s not the end of WA’s live sheep trade first appeared on Farm Online.