Meat & Livestock News

West Australian Beef Producers Face Unprecedented Challenges Amid Drought and Market Slump

A controller looking at pork and checking on it at meat factory.

Beef producers in Western Australia are grappling with an unprecedented crisis, driven by a severe drought and a sluggish cattle market. Some are even contemplating extreme measures such as giving away or euthanising their livestock.

A Historic Dry Spell

Western Australia is experiencing its driest year in three decades, putting immense pressure on cattle stations. Ashley and Debbie Dowden, who own the Mount Magnet property, have recorded a mere 76 millimetres of rain this year. This marks the driest season for their Challa Station since rainfall records began in 1888. “It’s an absolute shocker,” said Mr Dowden.

Market Woes

Compounding the issue is a depressed national cattle market. The Dowdens, like many other producers, are finding it increasingly difficult to sell their livestock. “There’s just no market.

Agents are advising against sending cattle to the sale yards as there will be no bids,” explained Mr Dowden. Some stations have even had to release cattle back into the yards due to the lack of potential buyers.

Tough Choices Ahead

Given the dire circumstances, producers are faced with difficult decisions. Mr Dowden described their next option as “starting to shoot cattle,” a measure he finds distressing. They are also considering separating calves from their mothers and giving them away, as the cost of feeding them has become prohibitive.

Consumer Paradox

Despite these challenges, beef remains expensive for consumers, a situation Mrs Dowden finds frustrating. “There’s a failure in the system that prevents us from offering our beef at a reasonable price,” she said. However, Meat and Livestock Australia has reported a 7.7% drop in retail beef prices over the past 12 weeks, with total purchase volume rising by 7.5%.

Additional Pressures

Hay prices in the state have surged, adding to the cost burden of maintaining livestock. Further complicating matters, David Stoate of Anna Plains Station has been dealing with a bushfire that has destroyed valuable feed on his property. “It’s hard to move cattle, impacting everything,” he said.

Market Trends

Craig Walker, a mid-west-based livestock agent, pointed out that the scarcity of grass has led to a market downturn. He noted that cattle weighing between 200 to 250 kilograms are fetching between $2.40 and $1 a kilo, depending on various factors. “The competition now is somewhat less given that the eastern states were also strong buyers,” he added.

The combination of a historic drought and a faltering market has put Western Australian beef producers in a precarious position. With no immediate relief in sight, the industry faces tough decisions that could have long-lasting implications.