Stations destock as dry lingers

NT Stations destock as dry lingers

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For some NT pastoralists, Cyclone Trevor was a "get out of jail free" card, but others are facing their ninth year of below average rainfall.

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SKY WATCH: Anna Weir, Ammaroo Station, Sheri Fogerty, Palmer Valley Station, and Nicole Hayes, Undoolya Station, catch up at the Alice Springs Show, NT, where the weather was a central topic of conversation.

SKY WATCH: Anna Weir, Ammaroo Station, Sheri Fogerty, Palmer Valley Station, and Nicole Hayes, Undoolya Station, catch up at the Alice Springs Show, NT, where the weather was a central topic of conversation.

FOR some NT pastoralists, Cyclone Trevor was a "get out of jail free" card, but others are facing their ninth year of below average rainfall.

NT Cattlemen's Association chief executive officer Ashley Manicaros said conditions were divided - between the north and the south and between those who had received rain and those who missed out.

North of Tennant Creek, NT, predominantly supplied the live export market and many properties there had increased the numbers sold to live exporters to move cattle off their property and reduce grazing pressure, he said.

"The demand from South East Asia is there and people are making the conscious decision to turn off cattle at the live export weight rather than keep them on the property," he said.

"We may face our challenge next season in terms of what we've got as replacements."

He said trade agreements between Indonesia and Australia meant in the future there would be zero tariffs on the cattle going into Indonesia.

Mr Manicaros said the NT was primed to benefit from the agreement, as a major exporter to that region.

"But we need to have the cattle to meet that demand," he said.

In central Australia, which catered to a domestic market, he said people had also been actively reducing stock numbers.

"They've had several seasons back to back of low rainfall," he said.

"There has been destocking in the thousands, with some (pastoralists) just back to breeder herds.

"Some properties are down to zero."

We may face our challenge next season in terms of what we've got as replacements. - ASHLEY MANICAROS

He said some eastern-based stations had received rain from the tail end of Cyclone Trevor in March, but others missed out.

Mr Manicaros said pastoralists had been proactive in land management and destocked early, but this caution meant they had received very little exceptional circumstances support.

"Our big issue is freight, if we were to chase anything, it would be freight assistance," he said.

With such large numbers being sold off, and having to travel large distances to find suitable markets, he said support in the form of a subsidy would be welcomed.

"It would be great if we had a local processor open," he said.

"We've definitely got the supply but we can't get local meat to the local market easily."

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Mr Manicaros said the positive aspect of country such as this was it recovered quickly following rain.

It has been a "long, hot, dry summer" at Palmer Valley Station, 150 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs, on the back of several years of the same, according to Sheri Fogerty.

"We're in our ninth year of below average rain," she said.

This was one of the unlucky areas to miss out on the rain following Cyclone Trevor.

In 2017, they began destocking, starting with about a third of their herd, then based on the lack of summer rain, trimmed another third of that herd.

They have destocked about one-third of their breeding stock and completely weaned everything off the cows to try and maintain the condition and health of the breeders.

In the past they have also kept some parts of the station locked up, in preparation for drought, with their second class areas now opened up.

"The prediction is there is meant to be an August break - whether that's right or not," she said.

"But before summer we'll make the big decision (on the breeding herd)."

Ms Fogerty said this was one of the longest periods of extended dry she had experienced.

"You might get three years like this," she said.

We went from extreme rain in 2010 and haven't had an average year since. - NICOLE HAYES

She said the biggest problem was trying to find markets to sell to, with large areas of Australia in a similar situation and also searching for rain and feed.

"You can't offload anywhere in Australia," she said.

"You can't really sell breeders - no one wants to buy them.

"It's really only slaughter cattle selling."

Organic producer Nicole Hayes, Undoolya Station, Alice Springs, NT, said their last good rain was in November last year, following 230 days of dry, with little follow-up since.

So far in 2019, they have recorded about 35 millimetres of rain at the homestead.

"We went from extreme rain in 2010 and haven't had an average year since," she said.

She said steers were struggling to reach feedlot weights or feedlots were full.

Ms Hayes said they had opened up as many bores as possible and lowered breeding numbers.

They have also increased the number they sell off from about 1000 head to 1600, sending them as far as Young, NSW, to processors.

She said it was important to make the decision to sell early to ensure cattle were still in good condition ahead of a particularly long journey.

"We're hoping things change by the end of the year and can start moving forward again," she said.

We had more rain in one day than we had in a year - or longer. - ANNA WEIR

Anna Weir knows the exact date rain fell at Ammaroo Station earlier this year - March 25.

At their station, about 320 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, they received 110mm. In 2018, they received 108mm all up.

"We had more rain in one day than we had in a year - or longer," she said.

"It was a get out of jail free card.

"We've had a couple of dry years, and it was as dry as it gets out here."

Before then, they had resorted to taking all their weaner cattle off the station but the rain had taken the pressure off.

"This rain allows the country and cattle to recover," she said.

This story first appeared on Stock Journal.

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