The contrasting outlooks that met NT producers when they gathered for last year's NTCA conference in Alice Springs and this year's in Darwin today illustrates just how much has changed in the space of 12 months.
In March last year Indonesia was projected to take just 267,000 cattle for the whole of 2013, many producers were in the grip of drought following a failed 2012-13 wet season, and most were also facing serious financial pressures following successive years of limited cattle selling opportunities and low prices.
This year, Indonesia is now projected to take 750,000 cattle, orders to other South East Asian markets for slaughter cattle such as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines are strong, and many producers have received more rain in the first three months of 2014 than they did in the whole of 2013.
After a long run of tough years, NT cattlemen need to string successive good years together before a recovery can be declared, but for the first time in a several years seasonal and market conditions largely appear to be back in their favour.
“I think about the outlook back when I was giving my speech last year and now and there has been a hell of a turnaround there,” Mr Warriner told Beef Central this week.
“The market has recovered against some learned advice from a few pessimists that didn’t think it would turn around the way it has, so that has been great.”
Mr Warriner said the continued severe drought in Queensland was continuing to have a profound effect on prices across the region, and he predicted prices would be much higher than the $2.30 currently available for steers in Darwin were the season to break.
Mr Warriner said another positive included the changes at Northern Territory and Federal level to Governments that were more pastoralist friendly than the previous Labor versions.
Federal Coalition ministers such as Julie Bishop, Andrew Robb, and Barnaby Joyce appeared to understand the need to improve the farm gate price, he said. “And they’re trying to do it,” Mr Warriner said. “How good a job they are able to do I don’t know, but at least they’re trying and that is a fair bit better than we were 12 months ago.”
Mr Warriner said the need to get Free Trade Agreements up and running as quickly as possible was imperative. Without improved market access the industry had little chance of improving farm-gate prices to the level required to ensure sustainable and profitable beef production enterprises in future.
Should northern producers 'go it alone'?
The long running and drawn out process to develop a more effective national representative structure for all Australian grassfed cattle producers was also a significant concern.
“That has got to be brought to a head or it will bring itself to a head one way or the other,” Mr Warriner said.
“The industry can’t afford to languish like this for too long.
“We have got too many issues on the table to have weak representation.”
In recent years a view has been discussed, mainly behind the scenes, that northern producers may be better served forming and funding their own representational group to advocate northern cattle issues, which can often be different to issues of importance to producers in Southern Australia. The fact that most southern State Farm Organisations are unable to pay their full Cattle Council of Australia membership dues has helped to fuel the belief northern producers may be better off funding their own regional body.
Asked if he believed northern producers should ‘go it alone’, Mr Warriner said the NTCA was still working to try to facilitate better national representation, but conceded that many producers were losing patience with the long-running process.
“I think there is more and more pressure coming to bear on that story (the push for northern representation).
“We keep trying to participate in facilitating the resurrection of the existing body, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to have good representation and right now we don’t.”
Mr Warriner said he thought the most likely outcome from the Senate Inquiry into grassfed beef levies and organisational structures currently underway would be a recommendation to conduct a full and independent review of all beef industry structures, something the NTCA and other groups have been calling for for more then three years.
He said that could be an acceptable result provided it was done quickly.
“It is just another delay, and industry is getting sick of it.
“It is a very difficult thing to cure, otherwise it would have been cured, but we need to cure it and get the problem out of the way.”
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