The sheep industry in Western Australia (WA) appears to be moving to a more stable footing now that regulations on live exports to the Middle East have been finalised after two years of review, although there is still potential for a shift away from sheep into cropping.
Analysis carried out by Mecardo for LiveCorp and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) notes the ‘fight for acres’ between winter crop and sheep production continues in the west, despite largely finding its balance at a national level.
LiveCorp CEO Sam Brown says WA sheep farmers are an important part of the live export supply chain, and the report provides an important understanding of factors that impact their decision-making, such as risk management and financial returns.
“WA sheep farmers have traditionally relied heavily on wool and live exports, and are exposed to different fundamentals than sheep farmers on the east coast,” Mr Brown said.
“Favourable seasonal conditions and forecasts of continuing strong demand for sheepmeat provide incentives for increasing sheep production. However, there are more factors at play in WA.
“It has a smaller domestic market, fewer abattoirs, and less access to the US market for sheepmeat due to shipping schedules and proximity, than producers in the east. This creates more price volatility, and on average WA sheepmeat producers receive lower prices.”
Mr Brown says in the past, live exports have played a key part in providing a reliable, year-round market, but since 2018 there has been considerable upheaval.
“The live export industry has responded to seismic changes to regulations in recent years with a dramatic improvement in shipping performance. This provides all supply chain participants with greater assurance on trade access and, as a result, there are signs of increased confidence in the WA sheep industry.
“Ultimately, security in financial returns and access to reliable supply chains and services will have the greatest influence on farmers’ decisions around enterprise mix. Greater certainty about live exports will allow farmers to factor in the opportunity it provides for income diversity, alongside cropping and wool production.”
MLA General Manager – Research, Development & Adoption, Michael Crowley, said MLA’s priority for the WA sheep industry is to ensure producers have access to as many markets and channels as possible to ensure healthy competition and a more robust and resilient industry.
“The forecast of more favourable seasonal conditions, combined with strong demand indicators, presents a positive outlook for the Australian sheep industry,” Mr Crowley said.
“Live export has been, and continues to be, an important channel for WA sheep producers. However, as key markets change their demands for lamb and sheepmeat, it is important we invest in strengthening all supply chains, providing stability and options for livestock producers.
“MLA will continue to work with industry to invest in R&D, marketing and market access to ensure the WA sheep industry has access to diversified markets.”
The report Analysis of domestic fundamentals influencing the national sheep flock is the third in a series of reports by Mecardo on the live sheep export trade.