Nationwide pressure on fencing supplies after northern floods

Flood fencing frenzy hits North West Queensland

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What's left of a Nelia district fence line in Queensland's McKinlay Shire, still to be replaced after February's floods. Photo: Sally Cripps

What's left of a Nelia district fence line in Queensland's McKinlay Shire, still to be replaced after February's floods. Photo: Sally Cripps

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The challenge of replacing thousands of kilometres of flooded fencing in Queensland has sent the farm supplies sector into overdrive

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The massive task of repairing thousands of kilometres of fencing lost to February's flooding in north western Queensland has sent the farm supplies sector into overdrive.

Just when drought in eastern Australia could be expected to be undermining demand for fencing materials, truckloads of wire and posts are heading into the remote Gulf and western regions as pastoralists make initial attempts to patch up and rebuild flood-flattened fence lines.

Coincidentally, even drought-weathered parts of Queensland, untouched by the extraordinary flooding event, continue to be busy ordering fencing supplies.

In fact, landholders nationally are taking advantage of tax incentives for drought proofing and new investment in fences to better protect pastures and livestock from kangaroos and predators.

A lot of station workers have had fencing pliers in their hands for weeks on end - Andrew Slatter, Ruralco

"We've seen some big orders being filled," said Ruralco northern rural services executive general manager, Andrew Slatter, whose responsibilities include Ruralco's Territory Rural and Northern Rural network.

"In the north I'd estimate we've probably moved double the volumes of wire and posts sold this time last year.

"A lot of station workers have had fencing pliers in their hands for weeks on end."

He said the latest activity followed two years of above average beef industry spending on fencing improvements.

"When cattle prices were good people spent on infrastructure."

Pastoralists have lately been working as quickly as possible to muster and contain surviving stock, or take on agisted cattle from droughty Queensland or the Barkly Tablelands.

As many landholders did not have significant insurance coverage over fencing or water infrastructure lost to flooding, charitable donations and government relief grants have been a major source of funding.

The post-flood repair rush has also put pressure on farm services and agency businesses as they accommodate extra demand for deferred payment terms, or provide debt finance to help cash-strapped cattle producers rebuild fencing and water infrastructure.

National sales manager with the Whites Rural fencing hardware company, Matt Stinson, said while the flood had undermined usual business activity, retailers were now carrying extra customer credit, and were busily co-ordinating relief supplies.

While rural stores were moving quite a bit of extra product volume, he conceded "there's not a lot of margin in fencing products".

Whites had supported flood recovery initiatives with 10 per cent to 20pc price discounting arrangements for retailers to pass on to customers, and offered its own extended payment terms.

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Some product lines had been harder to deliver as demand peaked, but Mr Stinson felt a bigger challenge for some time to come may be finding enough fencing contractors in remote areas like Julia Creek or Hughenden.

Ruralco's Mr Slatter said many landholders were starting with the bare basics - standing up flattened fence lines to contain herds and take on more cattle while there was fresh grass to eat.

"There'll be lots more to do. Eventually thousands of kilometres will have to be replaced," he said.

Estimated stock losses from February's wet, windy conditions have ranged from 500,000 to 750,000, including many young unbranded cattle just months old.

Australian Agricultural Company estimated 80pc of fences would need replacing on the 800,000 hectares of country flooded on its four Gulf of Carpentaria region stations.

AACo planned to spend up to $8 million on flood repairs to infrastructure, including fencing and watering systems in 2019-20.

After losing 43,000 cattle to the big wet, the beef giant was trying to move big numbers of cattle back into the region from drought areas, including onto neighbours' properties where spare feed is available and fences are repaired.

We've been preferencing the flood victims, but we're also handling plenty of orders from all states - Ross Lourie, Waratah

National sales manager with big fencing products maker Waratah, Ross Lourie, said while his company had organised numerous big deliveries to North West Queensland, strong demand continued from most other regions, too, adding to the logistics juggle.

"We've been preferencing flood victims, but we're also handling plenty of orders from all states," he said.

"There's been demand from livestock producers in the south who've had a few good years of meat and wool prices, and WA has been very busy because of recent confidence in wool and grain markets."

Canberra's instant tax depreciation write-off for $30,000 business investments, plus new rounds of funding activity for community cluster fence projects to stop feral animals had maintained market momentum.

Sales and marketing manager with parent company Liberty OneSteel, Brett Howlett, said the past two years' of peak farm sector demand had conveniently coincided with capacity upgrades and improved products from Waratah's Geelong (Victoria) and Newcastle (NSW) wire and steel post plants - and more investment was scheduled.

Queensland's floods also reinforced demand for Waratah's flood post fencing systems which effectively "pop out of the ground and let the debris float by" when hit by a torrent of water, significantly reducing damage risks and repair costs.

"It's more generally accepted these days the benefits of good quality fencing and fencing strategies really pay off with productivity advantages, and property values."

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