The $15 million Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange at Casino is this week a stranded asset, with zero agencies contracted to sell through the key facility.
The stand-off is between four existing agents and the Richmond Valley Council. A fifth agency was denied access after failing to submit an appropriate Expression Of Interest, a move which united the other agencies in defence of the old way of doing things. Interestingly, the affected agency had sold through the yards for the past 14 years and after the Lismore floods boosted throughput through Casino to the point that the NRLX leapt ahead of Dubbo and Wagga Wagga to come within coo-ee of Tamworth in top spot.
With no contracts signed before the July 1 deadline there will be no prime sale on Wednesday, and beyond that a big unknown, with no end to the impasse in sight.
Council general manager Vaugan Macdonald said on Monday that: "A fair and reasonable offer which is favourable against industry standards remains on the table for an agency to sign. Until signed we are not able to allow sales at the NRLX."
Beyond this all parties are maintaining tight lips about their ordeal so there is a lack of detail about where negotiations are at right now. Future store sale dates have not been scheduled for July. Rumours that Casino cattle might be sold at the Lismore yards are unconfirmed.
The annual Casino All-Breeds bull sale is still scheduled to go ahead on July 29, despite suggestions that it might move to the Primex yards.
Prices charged to agents to use the under-cover selling facility remain locked-in for another three years, which will make six years without a hitch-up.
However handling of cattle after the drop of the hammer will no longer be the agents responsibility and will fall instead to council staff.
Staff have already been asked to re-apply for their jobs while new recruits have been sourced from a Byron Bay labour-hire company.
Producers caught in the middle, with a very dry June hinting of sparse feed by spring, say there remains an urgent need to offload excess cattle and as such essential services like prime sales must continue.
Kyogle beef producer Holger Zeiler says the impasse as it now stands is unnecessary.
"There is nothing wrong with the saleyard system as it it is," he says. "There is no point throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
"The council should not have taken over the cattle handling. Truck drivers are upset; producers are not happy."
Mr Zeiler points out the work agents do outside of the saleyards far surpasses what would be expected of council with one late call-out quickly blowing the $8.80/hd earnings from handling each beast after the fall of the auctioneer's hammer.
"There's a whole lot of questions not being answered," he said.
Commission buyers who rely on the facility to make a living have pointing out that the sale yards were regarded as an essential service during COVID-19 and therefore business should be conducted as usual while contract negotiations are finalised.
The council at its June meeting announced that it would continue to seek new agencies to fill up to seven slots on offer, and noted the lucrative selling business in recent years could easily afford an increase in handling charges.
"Gross revenue at the NRLX increased from $76,479,965 in 2017-2018 to $210,437,317 in 2021-2022," the council noted.
"This remarkable result saw a jump in agents' commissions from $3,823,998 to $10,521,865 during the same period, making livestock selling at the NRLX a very profitable business."
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