Countryman - - FRONT PAGE - Cally Dupe and Peter Milne

In­dus­try stal­wart Bob If­fla has found him­self at the sharp edge of the live sheep ex­port de­ba­cle, with 1000 sheep orig­i­nat­ing from his prop­erty in limbo.

The Lake King gra­zier had not been paid by Emanuel Ex­ports on Tues­day af­ter this month de­liv­er­ing his fam­ily’s year-old sheep to the em­bat­tled ex­porter.

It was while lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio on Fri­day that he first heard the news — WA’s big­gest live sheep ex­porter Emanuel Ex­ports’ li­cence had been sus­pended and the ship his sheep were due to sail on, Al Shuwaikh, would not be leav­ing on its planned de­par­ture date.

Now the fu­ture of an ex­tra 5000odd of Mr If­fla’s wethers, and about 300,000 other sheep from across WA set to be ex­ported be­tween now and Septem­ber, is un­cer­tain.

With Emanuel Ex­ports out of the pic­ture in­def­i­nitely and ma­jor com­peti­tor Livestock Ship­ping Services not trad­ing un­til later this year, it leaves smaller player Har­mony and Fre­man­tle-based Wel­lard to po­ten­tially take sheep over­seas in the north­ern sum­mer months.

On Mon­day, WA Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Alan­nah MacTier­nan said lo­cal pro­ces­sors would be will­ing to “step up” and cope with in­creased vol­umes of sheep un­til the trade re­sumed, likely later this year, She said though pro­duc­ers would be con­cerned about lower prices, they were cur­rently fetch­ing record prices for sheep meat and wool.

“It would be wrong to sug­gest that this won’t af­fect prices,” she said. “It would be true to say the prices, in the short term, will re­duce but not toe a level that is sub-eco­nomic.

“We have to go into over­drive and make sure we have enough in­ter­na­tional mar­kets to cope with prob­a­bly about 300,000 ex­tra sheep dur­ing the next three months.”

But Mr If­fla said he be­lieved lo­cal pro­ces­sors would be over­whelmed by the sheer vol­ume of sheep if the live trade ceased un­til Septem­ber. He said he had heard anec­do­tally that pro­ces­sors had told farm­ers they would pay about $4/kg for sheep, or $80 a head, to process them in WA. Mr If­fla said Emanuel Ex­ports promised him $115 a sheep, worth al­most $6/kg.

At those prices, pro­cess­ing sheep in WA rather than send­ing them over­seas would cost the State’s farm­ers $10.5 mil­lion.

“We have done ev­ery­thing we can right as farm­ers,” Mr If­fla said. “It is just so, so dis­ap­point­ing to think our wages can be cut the way they will be.

“It would be the same for a per­son be­ing paid $60,000 to work in the city sud­denly be­ing told they would be paid $45,000 a year.

“I can only hope that there will be ships start­ing to cart sooner, maybe an­other ex­porter or some­thing. The Gov­ern­ments are the only ones that know the an­swer to that.”

Com­pound­ing the is­sue is a dry start to the sea­son, which Mr If­fla said meant there was lim­ited feed avail­able to buy and lit­tle pas­ture on the ground. He said it would be cru­cial for his farm to turn off the planned 5000 sheep be­fore Septem­ber to pro­vide feed for newly born lambs and moth­er­ing ewes, and stop him from spend­ing tens of thou­sands of dollars on feed.

“It is prob­a­bly the worst sea­son ever for gov­ern­ment to be play­ing these tricks . . . and I think they are tricks, they are play­ing games with us,” Mr If­fla said.

“We do need to move sheep pretty quickly from our farm, or we will face a bad sit­u­a­tion. We have to leave that space avail­able for ewes and lambs, or we will lose them.”

WAFarm­ers livestock pres­i­dent David Slade said feed was lim­ited and a halt to live ex­ports dur­ing the next few months would be dev­as­tat­ing for the State.

His Mt Barker prop­erty has no green feed and he has been spend­ing about $14,000 a week to fat­ten his 9000 sheep.

“It's go­ing to load the abat­toirs up,” Mr Slade said.

He said ar­eas near Albany, Esper­ance and the East­ern Wheat­belt had ex­pe­ri­enced very low rain­fall.

The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment sus­pended Emanuel Ex­ports’ ex­port li­cence last Fri­day, days af­ter the in­dus­try’s sec­ond-big­gest ex­porter, LSS, said it would sus­pend live sheep ex­ports dur­ing the north­ern sum­mer. The Com­mon­wealth is now con­duct­ing three sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Emanuel’s busi­ness, in­clud­ing a de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the cir­cum­stances around mass deaths on the Awassi Ex­press last year.

It is un­der­stood the sus­pen­sion is not re­lated to that in­ci­dent, with in­dus­try sources sug­gest­ing the de­ci­sion was the out­come of a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the com­pany breached rules around stock den­si­ties on Mid­dle East-bound ves­sels, even be­fore the lat­est scan­dal sparked the in­duc­tions of re­stric­tions on ship­ping num­bers.

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