WARRNAMBOOL’S livestock saleyards will close next year after the city’s council voted to cease the cattle-selling centre’s operation despite a groundswell of support from farmers and stock agents.
With mayor Debbie Arnott casting the deciding vote before about 150 protesting residents, farmers and stock agents, a motion to cease operating the South-West Victorian Livestock Exchange as a selling yard by 30 June 2023 was carried 4-3.
At its peak, the SWVLX had an annual throughput of more than 100,000 head of cattle and was ranked in the top five selling centres in Victoria for cattle for many years. Throughput is now around 6000 cattle annually.
Cr Ben Blain led the support for the closure motion supported by seconder Cr Vicki Jellie, Cr Max Taylor and the mayor. Councillors supporting the continued operation of the yards included Cr Otha Akoch, Richard Ziegler and Angie Paspaliaris.
Councillors supporting the centre’s closure cited increasing operational and upgrading costs, safety risk and declining throughput and returns, as well as under-investment by past city councils, and the site’s potential for alternative uses, including housing.
The centre’s supporters cited its economic importance to the city and producers, council’s obligation to make amends for past council mistakes in not upgrading the site, and its value as a social centre for producers.
The closure motion acknowledged the exchange’s employees and its loyal stock agents and producers. It also authorised the council to proceed with perimeter fencing and associated works required in response to a WorkSafe improvement notice issued in March 2022.
The will now commissions a future strategic land use plan for the site and adjacent buffer zone landholdings and authorised the CEO to reallocate budgeted funds from the refurbishment of the saleyards to fund the future strategic land use plan and community consultation for the site. Any unallocated funds from the refurbishment will be returned to the council’s unallocated reserves for future budget considerations as part of the annual budgeting process.
Local Government has provided and managed saleyards in Warrnambool since 1883. In 1970, the saleyards moved from Raglan Parade to the present site in Caramut Road, where it occupies 7.88 hectares of land bordered by Caramut, Coghlans and Rooneys Roads. The selling centre has transitioned from a sheep and cattle selling centre to a specialist cattle saleyard.
Councilors were told industry trends have seen a significant shift to alternative selling methods, with direct sales to processors, online auctions and a competing cattle saleyard at Mortlake, north of Warrnambool.
However, a study by the AEC Group found that while the SWVLX continued to be a driver of business, employment and trade within Warrnambool its contribution to business output in 2021-2022 had fallen to $10.4 million, down from $13.7 million in 2008.
A decline in throughput at the SWVLX was attributed to industry changes including shrinking herd sizes, online auctions, an alternative selling centres at Mortlake and centralisation of farms.
The AEC Group Economic Impact Assessment found the exchange is estimated to contribute $10.4 million in business revenues (output) for the Warrnambool local government area, generating $5.4 million in Gross Regional Product (GRP) and supporting the equivalent of 56 full-time jobs, which pay $3.6 million in wages and salaries in 2021-22 (directly and indirectly).
The economic activity supported by the SWVLX in 2021-22 represents 75.9 percent of activity supported by the saleyards in 2007-08. Jobs supported by the SWVLX represents 0.31pc of total jobs in the Warrnambool LGA and GRP supported represents 0.22pc of total GRP in the area.
The study also found visitors to the SWVLX value the social and mental health benefits associated with meeting on sales days.
Nine of the 22 businesses surveyed, including eight agricultural-related businesses and a dog wash facility, indicated that the SWVLX sale days had a positive impact. Of the nine businesses positively impacted by the saleyards, three businesses quantified their level of increased activity as a result of saledays to be 20pc, 40pc and 70pc, while the other six businesses could not directly quantify their level of increased activity but indicated there was some level of impact.