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Drought forces Jamestown sheep market to cancel for the third month in a row for the first time ever

Lucas Forbes, Thursday July 18, 2019 - 16:50 EST
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Landmark Jamestown agent Shannon Jaeschke says no one can remember the market being cancelled three times in a row before. - ABC

As the drought drives Australia's sheep flock to historic lows, a South Australian sheep sale has been called off three times due to a lack of animals.

While missing a market or two in a year is not rare, Landmark Jamestown agent Shannon Jaeschke said three cancellations in a row is unheard of.

"I've been in Jamestown a bit over three years and this is the first time I've seen it," he said.

"I've spoken with other agents and they've never seen it either … at the moment there is simply a lack of sheep to sell."

The Jamestown market can bring in buyers from as far away as Victoria to see sale offerings between 3,000 and 12,000 sheep.

However, with many producers in the drier north of the state destocking to deal with the drought, the market has had to be cancelled.

Jamestown farmer Tom Cooper owns pastoral property near Broken Hill as well.

His Jamestown property has avoided the worst of the drought, but his property in Broken Hill is almost entirely destocked.

"At Jamestown we've mainly used this to breed Rams for the pastoral areas, so we've tried to keep our prime breeding stock and to do this we've had to confinement feed," Mr Cooper said.

"However, we're still down 40 per cent, the big effect is in Broken Hill where that's been 90 per cent destocked."

Mr Cooper is far from alone, with the national sheep flock predicted to fall to 65.8 million head this year, the .

Effects on the town

However, the drought is not just affecting the sheep industry around Jamestown.

Mr Cooper said the monthly markets provided a shot in the arm for the local economy, with visitors stopping in town to do some shopping or grab some food.

"I think it's speaking from a community point of view, the monthly markets bring in a good number of people in to town, obviously the local sheep firms have less sheep to sell so they'll be generating less commission," he said.

Local car dealership owner Neville Gibb said he has noticed the drought taking a toll on Jamestown's main street.

"There's actually five businesses in the main street of Jamestown, and there's about 2–3 empty premises which we've never seen before," he said.

However, he said he has also seen the effects on his own business.

"Our worst months have been March/April where the workshop work dropped off dramatically, it dropped off 20–30 per cent," he said.

"We didn't have to lay off any staff, but we had to find other jobs for them to do.

"And new car sales are down 9 per cent."

Rebuilding the flock

However, even if the drought breaks, it could take years for the sheep industry to full recover.

Mr Cooper said with few sheep available for restockers, for many it will be a long journey to replenish flocks.

"Given the Australia-wide drought, there's very few sheep to restock from so it's going to be a matter of slowly increasing numbers through breeding and any surplus sheep will be highly sought after," he said.

Mr Jaeschke said it could take almost 10 years for the sheep industry to recover from the long-term effects of drought.

"We sort of says four or five years [recovery period] and that's just to get it rolling again," he said.

"In the real long term, we could be looking at five to 10 years."


© ABC 2019

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