AUSTRALIAN sheep producers are helping the Inner Mongolia government grow its breeding flocks by exporting ewes by airfreight to the Chinese province.
Speaking at Sheepvention at Hamilton, Victoria, Elders live exports general manager Cameron Hall said Elders would deliver 9500 head to the Inner Mongolia government this year.
In July, Elders delivered the largest single consignment of breeding sheep to China, with 5300 ewes delivered to Inner Mongolia in four aircraft across a six-day period.
"That takes some doing, not only at this end to purchase all of the sheep and then have them spend 30 days in quarantine and conduct all the blood tests that are required, they then have to be put on the aircraft, delivered and spend 45 days in quarantine when they land," Mr Hall said.
Mr Hall said about 80 metric tonnes of sheep could fit on each plane.
In mid-September Elders will fly another order of 3900 sheep to the Inner Mongolia government.
Mr Hall said the ewes would go into a nucleus breeding flock to expand the local production of sheep meat products in the Chinese marketplace.
"I don't have a concern about supplying 9500 breeding sheep into China as we know the population is going to grow and their sheep flock is declining," he said.
"We can supply livestock into their marketplace as well as still supply the high volumes of sheep meat products processed in Australia at the same time.
"It's a really good balance of getting high quality breeding livestock into international markets and supplying high quality sheep meat products into those markets at the same time."
The ewes in the Inner Mongolia government order included Dorpers, White Dorper, Suffolks, White Suffolks, South African meat Merinos and Poll Merinos.
There was also a potential to export breeding sheep to the Middle East, in a similar capacity to Elders' current dealings with China, Mr Hall said.
"We have recently done some small shipments of breeding sheep into the Middle East and we think it's a market that will continue to grow as a number of markets want to provide their own food," Mr Hall said.
"They don't want to have to buy all their food and fibre out of the global marketplace."
He said Elders would maintain its position as major livestock supplier to three key exporters Wellard, EMS Rural Exports and Livestock Ship- ping Services in the Middle East.
"We play a critical role in the Middle East export market without being in there as principal exporter," Mr Hall said.
"It's a reasonably defined market and it's a difficult market for us to break into.
"We are better off as a company to be involved in that market as a supplier rather than try and weigh in and steal market share."
Mr Hall said the only way to steal market share in the Middle East was by discounting price.
"If we go in there and try and steal market its probably going to return a lower price to the producer."
In light of growing export demand for Australian sheep, activist group Animals Australia has claimed tens of thousands of sheep being shipped to the Middle East were currently sweltering through summer heat and were at increased risk of suffering and dying on board vessels from heat stress.
Animals Australia chief investigator Lyn White said there was "an ever present high risk of sheep suffering and dying from heat stress on board vessels at this time of year due to animals having to cope with the dramatic change in conditions from the cold of an Australian winter into the high heat of a Middle Eastern summer".
"Live exported animals already have to endure enough during shipping and on arrival," Ms White said.
"Why not at least show some compassion and not send animals during these high risk summer months?
"To continue to load animals despite these risks, and the current fluctuating weather conditions in the Middle East that is resulting in some of the most extreme heat ever recorded, raises the ethical negligence of live export companies to record levels."
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