THE muster season is well underway in the Katherine region, and for cattle producers the familiar, dusty hard work is tinged by the knowledge they are facing yet another tight season as the live export industry continues the process of getting back on its feet following Federal Government’s ban in June last year.
While this season will not be plagued by the same upheaval of 2011, Executive Director of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Luke Bowen said this year is still characterised by its own difficulties.
He said a reduced Indonesian import quota of 283,000 head – down significantly from the usual 400,000 to 500,000 head will particularly define the second half of the year, in which there will only be a live export quota for around 90,000 head.
“It’s a really serious concern. It will continue to impact on cash flows, continue to create a lack of confidence and there are high debt levels, and land values are yet to be tested,” Mr Bowen said.
“The challenge with the quota is that it goes against basic market fundamentals, which are incredibly sound. This quota is working against natural market demand, which creates escalation of prices in Indonesia.”
Mr Bowen warned that given Indonesia’s increasing population and demand for beef, they will have to fill this demand from somewhere, and if they tap into too many of their own herd’s breeders and females it will be to their detriment.
“We’ve got a difficult time for Australia for the next 18 months to two years.”
At Hodgson Downs - three hours drive south-east of Katherine off the Roper Highway, the station is not showing too many overt signs of the impact of the live export ban, but the number of cattle they are able to sell will be lower than usual.
With the first-round of mustering underway, the crew is spending its days in the saddle from sun-up to sun-down as they round up from one far-flung paddock to the next.
The property, which runs 15,700 head over 1.4 million hectares, is operated by the Indigenous Land Corporation.
It has the dual focus of operating a commercial cattle station and providing a residential employment based training facility for Indigenous people to develop skills and knowledge in the pastoral industry.
Many farmers are seeking compensation for the impact of the government’s ban, but Hodgson Downs office manager Tanya Hockey, wife of station manager Murray Hockey, said they are getting on with the job and keeping focussed on equipping the young indigenous people it trains with an array of life skills.
“It’s all looking pretty normal for this time of year,” she said.
With a muster-staff of nearly twenty, including seven trainees, many will be experiencing the whole process for the first time.
“The main goal is to train these guys up in the hopes that one day they can have the land back... we had a 10-year lease agreement with Allawa community, and the running of the business will eventually fall to them.”
Mr Bowen, who met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin last week, said she seemed “pretty genuine” about the industry’s concerns, and said cattlemen were continuing to work on strengthening their relationship with Indonesia.