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Dry season floods Muchea with sheep

Olivia Garnett, Tuesday July 2, 2013 - 17:18 EST
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Minister for Agriculture and Food Ken Baston is exploring overseas markets to keep sheep farmers in the game - ABC

Stock agents say the recent dry spell in the eastern wheatbelt has been the main driver for 21 730 sheep and lambs being yarded at today's sale at Muchea.

It's the most sheep sold at Muchea in one day since May 2011, where 23 948 went under the hammer.

The lack of feed and water in northern and eastern parts of the wheatbelt has forced many producers to sell their animals.

One farmer from Dalwallinu sent 1600 sheep from his single property to today's sale, a sobering sign that producers are making tough management decisions.

Despite the high numbers, prices held well and quality was relatively good.

"I've just done an average on what I've bought and I've found that prices are very similar to prices at Katanning last week," said Murray French from Westcoast Livestock in Albany.

The WA Minister for Agriculture and Food Ken Baston says he's determined to create a diversification of markets for the sheep industry and he's been talking about those opportunities with producers at today's sale.

For many in the sheep industry those new markets couldn't come soon enough.

Reduced opportunities in the live export market in recent years, subdued demand from the processors, poor prices and now dry seasonal conditions have farmers offloading a large number of livestock at today's Muchea sale.

"One of my big issues is marketing, if you create the price where the producer can make a profit then I believe that's the best way we can build up the sheep flock in Western Australia."

Mr Baston is focussing on South East Asia, China and other emerging markets like Vietnam.

WA's sheep flock has dropped from 25 million to 14.5 million in six years, a level not experienced since the 1950's.

Mr Baston says today's yarding at Muchea of over 20 000 sheep should be the norm.

"We need to get back to that and show profitability in sheep."

He's concerned WA could lose its grip on overseas markets if numbers don't improve.

"I intend to travel and help to establish those markets for Western Australia, we've got to remember that on the same time zone we have 60 per cent of the world's population sitting on our doorstep."

Ron Dewar from Gingin was at the Muchea sale to sell some of his sheep which fetched for $104.40 each, higher than he expected.

"We expected a drop of about $10 considering the number of lambs that were in," Mr Dewar said.

"There were a couple of keen buyers that made the difference... it's a game of chance this farming."

"We're crying out for rain now, further inland I don't think they've had a break to the season at all."

"We're not badly off compared to a lot of the other poor devils."

One of the state's big sheep farmers and traders Peter Boyle from York took home about 650 sheep, a modest day considering he usually only gets the chequebook out for upwards of 1000.

He says the seasonal conditions are the main reason why there were so many sheep at today's sale.

"The dry season is starting to really bite, people are having to get rid of sheep because pasture is disappearing."

Mr Boyle says it's hard for producers to move ewes on when most are lambing.

"Hopefully they can either find agistment or they'll just have to feed them and carry them through."

The truckload of sheep Mr Boyle bought today are destined for the live export trade.

"Livestock Shipping Services have two boats going and Emanuel Exports have one," he said.


© ABC 2013

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