A DECISION to shift the selling day for Central Queensland’s CQLX Rockhampton saleyards from Friday to Wednesday from next January has polarised opinion among vendors, agents and buyers.
Accusations have flown around this week suggesting the move is more about accommodating cattle vendors’ weekend campdraft commitments than it is about any smooth flow of slaughter and store cattle through the red meat industry supply chain.
CQLX is the third largest cattle selling centre in Queensland when slaughter and store cattle are combined, typically yarding 1500 or 2000 head a week at this time of year.
Rockhampton Combined Selling Agents and the Central Queensland Livestock Exchange (CQLX) yesterday issued an advice to stakeholders saying the combined prime and store cattle sales that are currently held on Fridays will be shifted to Wednesdays, effective from January.
The advice, quoting CQLX operations manager Gavin Tickle, said marketing cattle earlier in the week would provide a ‘better outcome for users’ of CQLX.
Mr Tickle claimed the change would increase buyer competition, resulting in improved market conditions for vendors.
“Moving to a mid-week sale enables livestock previously not sold at CQLX to enter the marketing,” he said.
Local stock agent Corbmac Fanning, from Fanning Rural Services, was quoted in the advice as saying he was keen to see improvements resulting from the change.
“We want to ensure the best results for our clients – that is our priority, and we believe this change will be beneficial for them,” he said.
A mid-week sale would also enable CQLX to offer the use of its covered selling arena to local community groups to host events over the weekend, the advice said.
“CQLX is looking forward to welcoming additional weekend community events, including barrel racing, rodeos and cutting competitions, and supporting and promoting these events to the broader community,” it said.
Decades ago, Rockhampton held a fat cattle sale each Monday, and a fortnightly Friday store sale, before the two were combined into a single Friday fixture around 15 or 20 years ago.
Cattle buyers universally opposed
Beef Central sought reaction from four prominent meat processor and feedlot buyers who routinely operate at CQLX Gracemere each week. Each was strongly opposed to the change, for a range of logistical, staffing and sales-clash reasons.
The new Wednesday Gracemere sale would clash with Dalby, Charters Towers and Monto/Eidsvold or Biloela (alternate weeks) sales already held the same day, they said.
“There is no logic to it, and it completely fails to recognise the customer – cattle buyers,” a prominent processor contact said. “It’s poor customer service,” he said.
“A basic premise of any business is to look after the customer. We (cattle buyers) are the primary customer, and should have been intrinsically involved in any decision on programming. We haven’t been.”
One meatworks buyer told Beef Central that the move could well jeopardise the future of smaller Wednesday sales in the immediate Central Queensland region, including Monto, Eidsvold and Biloela.
“Logistically, we simply won’t be able to have buyers attend Gracemere and the smaller nearby fortnightly or weekly sales on the same day,” he said.
“Every change like this affects another sales venue, and we don’t have an endless pool of buyers. Where possible we like to use company buyers rather than commission buyers, and this takes some resourcing.”
Previously, there was some ‘basic logic’ in the sequence of major cattle sales that occur across Queensland each week, processors said.
Some of the larger regular CQLX Gracemere buyers out of southern Queensland operate their own livestock transport vehicles, complaining that the previous logical uploads out of Toowoomba on Mondays, Roma Tuesdays, Dalby Wednesdays, Emerald Thursdays and Gracemere Fridays provided a level of efficiency. The new Gracemere selling schedule would greatly disrupt that pattern, congesting cattle flow in the middle of the week, they said.
Several southern Queensland feedlot buyers also said they objected to the move, for similar reasons.
“With feedlot induction, we need a steady flow of feeder cattle arriving through the week,” one lotfeeder said. “This move will create a big lump in the middle of the week, with multiple sales all on the same day, with associated animal welfare concerns over induction delays.”
While cattle vendor lifestyle commitments surrounding weekend campdrafts was raised by several cattle buyers as a motivating factor behind the change, several also said some agents no longer wanted to work Saturday mornings loading stock onto trucks from a Friday sale fixture.
“We have to feed cattle seven days a week, induct cattle seven days a week, and truck cattle seven days a week – what makes them any different?” one supply chain manager said.
The sale shift could also impact on buyer demand, one processor said.
“Gracemere is currently the last sale of the week, and it is to the vendors’ benefit that in times of shorter numbers, vendors often receive a premium that may not exist earlier in the week, as we top up our weekly quotas,” he said.
Processors spoken to for this report said they had expressed their opposition to the move, to no effect.
If the situation deteriorates, one contact said buyer non-attendance could be an option as a protest, echoing the events that took place at Barnawartha saleyards in Victoria several years ago, over the controversial shift to liveweight selling – against overwhelming opposition from processors.
An advisory committee meeting will be held at Gracemere in early November at which ‘site-users’ have been invited to discuss queries regarding the transition of the sale day.