LAKE KING FLOCK IN EXPORT LIMBO
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.