Breeding stock faces ‘sacrifice’
GRAZIERS are having to sacrifice their breeding stock as beef producers grapple with export restrictions, a glut of livestock and the brutality of a so-far unyielding drought.
The young stock raised for live export to Indonesian abattoirs before they reached the 350kg mark have now grown too heavy for Indonesia's import guidelines, making them worthless.
The only valuable cattle remaining are those that should be kept for breeding new stock.
As tough conditions bite and up to a million head of cattle lumber towards a starving end, farmers are left with few options.
Cloncurry Mayor Andrew Daniels headed to Brisbane to plead the case of the farmers working in northern Australia.
Mr Daniels said many felt ignored by politicians and media alike, even as 14 local government areas were officially "drought-affected".
How does a one-month live export ban on cattle to Indonesia - prompted by horrifying footage from an overseas abattoir - continue to haunt the lives of producers?
"One month might sound silly," Mr Daniels said.
"But when Australia re-opened the trade, the Indonesians said 'Don't worry, we'll get it from elsewhere'.
"Demand fell by 75%. The boxed meat dropped by between 50% and 75%.
"Indonesia was a huge market and it crumpled overnight."
The extra cattle require feed and water yet they no longer have any purpose or any value for the grazier.
"What it has done - there's a million head of cattle that would have been gone from Australia that now have no home to go to," he said.
"Because of the dry weather, it's going to be really hard to sustain life for those million head of cattle.
"The impact is the only saleable product that the graziers have are their female cows.
"Our numbers are going to dwindle over the next few years."
At the Beef Crisis Summit held in Richmond - halfway between Townsville and Mount Isa - a suite of recommendations was made to help the industry, including supplying some of Australia's allocated foreign aid for Indonesia in the form of "protein" or meat supplies.
Mr Daniels said it was the humane option for these cattle, which were facing a torturous end.
Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the plan was flawed.
For one thing, Australia has not provided food as aid since 2005.
It may also be in breach of the World Trade Organisation guidelines, according to the minister.
Another request from the summit was for an apology from Mr Ludwig, but the minister remained solid in his stance.
"Unlike (Opposition Leader Tony) Abbott, we will not apologise for reforms to improve animal welfare," Mr Ludwig said.
These were "once-in-a-generation" reforms that would make the industry more resilient, he said.
If there was one thing Mr Daniels said about the farmers in crisis, resilience was one of the few things keeping them on the land.
"That's the last thing they'll do, is walk off," he said.
"They'll work until they drop, a lot of them."