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Calls for freight subsidies as 500,000 Barkly cattle trucked out in 'emergency' destocking

Carmen Brown, Matt Brann and Lydia Burton, Friday June 7, 2019 - 14:06 EST
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Thousands of cattle have been trucked out of the drought-stricken Barkly region in recent months. - ABC

The Northern Territory cattle industry is calling for Federal Government assistance as drought-stricken Barkly pastoralists face millions of dollars in "emergency" destocking costs.

The NT Cattlemen's Association estimates more than half a million cattle have been trucked out of the region in recent months, .

CEO Ashley Manicaros said producers were now facing a substantial cost burden, which could continue for years to come.

"They've moved cattle to agistment in north Queensland, which has recovered slightly, or further north into the Top End, but at some point they're going to have to get those cattle back," he said.

"I was talking with an operator this week who estimates their transport costs will be about $10 million to do all that."

Mr Manicaros said, with some producers now paying up to $250 per head to transport their cattle, the industry would be seeking a subsidy to help offset the cost.

But with the Northern Territory Government grappling with a huge budget deficit, he said the sector would be looking elsewhere for assistance.

"The Northern Territory Government doesn't have a coordinated drought plan; it relies on what the Federal Government offers," he said.

"We think the Federal Government ought to be interested and involved, because at the end of the day this is a primary industry that allows for the economy to keep ticking over."

NT Government responsibility, says Littleproud

ABC Rural asked Federal Minister for Drought David Littleproud whether the Commonwealth would be prepared to offer freight subsidies to drought-affected NT cattle producers.

In a statement, Mr Littleproud replied:

"It's a tough time for NT producers and the Federal Government is there to do our bit.

"Both federal and state governments have defined responsibility during drought. Freight and fodder assistance is the responsibility of state and territory governments.

"The Federal Coalition Government is interested and involved in drought support, we have committed almost $7 billion towards our drought policy, including the $5 billion Future Drought Fund and Farm Household Allowance to keep food on the table during tough times.

"Farmers don't want politics they want leadership.

"The NT Government would do better to focus on their responsibilities and deliver for drought-affected farmers."

Livestock transporters under pressure

While the industry maintains producers have handled the drought situation proactively, the months-long destocking effort has become increasingly urgent in recent weeks.

Executive officer of the NT Road Transport Association, Louise Bilato, said livestock transporters had been called in from right across northern Australia to provide assistance.

"Pretty much every livestock truck from Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland has been working flat out to keep the heads of the pastoralists above water," she said.

"They're doing it a bit tough, but they believe they are keeping up with the demand."

With the Northern Territory's hay stocks diminished following a poor growing season and strong demand from drought-affected buyers interstate, many cattle stations have been left with virtually no fodder this year.

Ms Bilato said the lack of feed had increased the urgency with which animals needed to be moved off-station.

"As the pastoralists are mustering, they haven't got any capacity to hold the animals and so virtually the next day they need those animals to be moved," she said.

"There just isn't the hay to feed them while they're waiting for the transporters to move their animals."

Ms Bilato said the situation had now become a genuine emergency.

"Certainly livestock carters — the professional operators who do this all the time — have described it as an emergency as well, so they are doing their darnedest to rise to the occasion and meet that demand."

Cattle heading to feedlots, flood-affected regions

The majority of cattle being transported out of the Barkly are heading east to other properties, feedlots, or meat processors in Queensland.

Livestock agent, Bo Scoble, said many of the cattle were being moved internally between corporate-owned stations.

"Condition-wise a lot of these cattle are store to backwards store," he said.

"No doubt all of the producers and corporates out there are doing everything they can to ensure animal welfare is paramount, as we all do in the industry.

"And we're doing everything we can to ensure that cattle, which are moveable, are being moved in the hope they can continue on."


© ABC 2019

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