Across the Top End, a sense of hopelessness is emerging. More than a year on from last year’s live export ban, the forgotten story, the human story, is still being played out.
Deep in debt, starved of their major market and forced to sell cattle at a loss to the south, live-export geared producers are increasingly questioning how they can stay afloat.
“It is too big an issue for individuals, or even the industry now,” David Warriner, president of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, said.
“This is a government issue and it has to be fixed or Australia will pay an even bigger price in the longer term.”
Mr Warriner says Northern Australia is rapidly spiralling into a financial crisis caused by the fallout from last year’s ban, and the only realistic chance of avoiding disaster is for the Federal Government to do everything in its power to restore a full and active trade with Indonesia.
“The bottom line is that two years from now, Indonesia is going to need one million head of cattle,” Mr Warriner said.
“We are sitting here ideally positioned to feed it, our welfare situation is better than anywhere in the world, and because we have offended them diplomatically they are going to Brazil and India to replace us.
“The government has got to get involved and get it fixed.”
Indonesia’s continued reliance on imports to feed its population has been underscored in recent weeks by disclosures that it is talking to Brazil and India about taking beef imports from those countries.
While Indonesia needs more beef, those best-placed to supply it with affordable, clean, healthy beef are struggling to stay in business due to a severe lack of import quotas from the market.
Mr Warriner says there is no doubt that the future of Australia’s northern cattle industry is irrevocably tied to Indonesia.
Other live cattle markets are too small and too low-priced to provide a viable alternative, while vast distances and high transport costs mean that supplying southern domestic markets is not a long-term solution either.
“Nothing is going to replace Indonesia,” Mr Warriner said.
“We have got to get back into that $2/kg Indonesian feeder market without the weight restrictions at the end of the day for our long term viability.
“What this Government has to do is understand the cost of Indonesia not being there, versus the cost of getting that 500,000 head per year market back.
“Do those two cost analyses, and I’ll bet you it is cheaper to allocate the resources required to get the market back.
“We’re losing market share now. They’re replacing us. If we let this run for another two years, we’ll be gone.”