In light of recent debate surrounding the ongoing need for and relevance of live export in the greater beef cattle industry I feel compelled to outline the important contribution this market makes to the ongoing agriculture and rural and regional Queensland.
Live export is not a competitor to domestic processing but rather plays a complementary role to the processing sector and acts as an important market alternative for suitable stock. Basic economics tells us a competitive market drives price by, quite simply, increasing the number of potential customers for our product. Queensland is one of the largest producers of beef in the world and it is not an accurate assumption product being sold through the live export market can be absorbed by local processors.
Basic economics also clearly shows us having complementary markets also stimulates jobs and regional communities. Australia’s live export sector currently employs around 10,000 people across Australia and forms the foundation of hundreds of businesses, each of which form a critical link in the live cattle supply chain. Again, economies of scale and the unique requirements of the live export trade clearly shows us claims these jobs and businesses could be absorbed into the domestic processing sector are misguided.
Also misguided are notions our live export trading partners would tolerate the substitution of live cattle with chilled or boxed beef. While on the surface this may seem viable, history has shown us live export customers will actively seeks alternate suppliers should we be unable to meet live cattle requirements. It is critical to remember demand for live cattle is often underpinned by a cultural preference for freshly slaughtered livestock and limited refrigeration facilities and for that reason does not allow us to simply prescribe alternative product solutions – our customers are very clear about what they want and need.
It is also imperative to understand the important role live export plays in globally improving animal welfare. Our industry well understands concerns which have been raised in the past as a result of the unacceptable behaviour of a very small number of participants in the supply chain. However, we refuse for the reputation of farming families, exporters and our entire sector to be muddied by what are exceptions and most certainly not norms.
The Australian live export industry proudly drives global animal welfare through the provision of training, welfare risk analysis and technical support to offshore markets. We understand our responsibility in following our livestock’s welfare from our paddock through to the plate of our overseas customers and have invested heavily in ensuring all in the supply chain are aware of and equipped to contribute to strong welfare outcomes. As is the case for the concept of replacing live cattle with chilled or boxed beef, we have seen in the past if our customers cannot source from us they will turn elsewhere and almost certainly to suppliers who do not prioritise animal welfare as we do.
AgForce Queensland strives to ensure Queensland’s three main markets – domestic, boxed beef and live export are at once protected and grown to underpin price, profit and the prosperity of our producers and the broader rural and regional community. There is no doubt each is a unique and valuable contributor to the economy, society and to responsible livestock production and are fundamental to a strong agriculture sector which can deliver to all of Queensland.
Having been active in the beef industry over many decades, I fully support Bim’s call for acknowledgement of the role played by live export as a third arm to beef industry sales. When AMH was formed there were no live exports and abattoirs operated across northern Australia.
Cattle had to be transported thousands of miles to reach slaughter houses. There were many water breaks on the trip and a degree of wasting. With the quality of vessels transporting stock to foreign customers today with feed and water readily available, the condition of the stock on turnout is far superior to those moving from cattle train to the Dinmore handling yards in years gone by.
Significant numbers of breeding stock are also being shipped live to foreign buyers to improve the quality of their herds. Dairy heifers are shipped to the Middle East, Mexico, China, Pakistan and Malaysia again on specially designed vessels and on occasions by air.
Already AACo identified an opportunity to build a hot boning abattoir to take advantage of the cutter cows and spent bulls in our northern herds. These are the animals that produce the high quality stock grown to meet customer specifications. Livestock management is critical on our northern pastoral properties. Genetic improvement and turnoff programs to meet the Indonesian weight requirements are designed to lift the profitability of these businesses.
Bim is right many people beyond the farm gate benefit from these undertakings and we are proud of the members of our industry that produce such fine quality animals.
The Australian Beef Industry Foundation is a charity raising funds to inspire careers across the beef supply chain. Scholarships we provide to people such as Hamish Lee-Warner on Minderoo Station in the Pilbara WA, Kylie Stretton of Charters Towers, Queensland and Aleisha Finger of Meadowbrook, Dysart, Queensland to attend the Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program assure us that the industry is in great hands and our overseas customers can be assured of the continued good quality of live animals.