Live-ex decline drives Brett family to plan pivot to new markets

Article by Marion McDonald courtesy of QLD Country Life.

Hamish Brett says live export will decline gradually and his family, which led the live export ban class action and has just bought Willeroo Station from Gina Rinehart’s company, is eyeing new markets.

“I honestly believe the live export trade will slowly decline,” Dr Brett said.

“Live export, which has been great for our family and other northern producers, is being over-scrutinised and it seems to me that the government is trying to over-regulate it out of existence.

“I believe if we get crops like cotton and sorghum growing and established up here and plenty of it, there will be a lot more producers and corporates going into the feedlot scene and hopefully the AACo meatworks will get going again and we’ll have another option for fat cattle.”

He said northern Queensland had been able to access the Jap Ox market and the NT industry could follow suit with premium Brahman cattle.

Cutting red tape would be critical to accomplishing that, Dr Brett said.

The cost of gaining approval from regulators to develop cropping country, he said, took a prohibitive amount of time and money.

“Let’s get on track to start developing up here, there’s a lot of assets and suitable country that just go to waste,” Dr Brett said.

“I think it will happen because everyone’s starting to realise, especially after the drought, that there’s a lot of water up here and you can grow crops over the wet season and, for that matter, you don’t need to be taking water out of the ground or out of the rivers.”

For now at least, while plenty of Territory cattle had been trucked south, live export was still the main game for the northern cattle industry and the Brett family was well set up to capitalise on it.

The $40 million walk-in, walk-out purchase of the 171,000-hectare Willeroo Station dovetailed with the family’s existing 189,500ha Waterloo Station near the NT/WA border, and its Coomalie Holding Depot an hour south of Darwin, Dr Brett said.

The plan is for Waterloo Station to be the main breeding block, feeding Willeroo Station with weaners, which will then go on to Coomalie.

Set up as a feedlot, Coomalie offered the Brett family flexibility.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to have feeder cattle supplying the traditional live export market and also cattle being grown out in the Coomalie feedlot/export depot to supply the Jap Ox market, which will utilise the AACo abbatoir, so we just gear around either-either,” Dr Brett said.

The ease of getting cattle to Coomalie was one of the attractions of Willeroo for the Brett family.

It sits “pretty much slap-bang in the middle” of Coomalie and Waterloo but, even more importantly, has a 40-kilometre frontage to the sealed Victoria Highway and Dr Brett said truck access to Waterloo was often impossible during the wet season.

“With sale cattle sitting on the bitumen, we can be selling and have access to them all year round, not just in the dry season window like the vast majority of northern cattle stations have to,” he said.

The last season or two hadn’t been easy in the north and Dr Brett said both stations needed to be rested and allowed to recover.

It was green but the monsoon has so far not turned up.

Even so, Dr Brett said, the cattle looked exceptional given the time of year and he expected impressive weight gains over the coming wet.

So, rather than stocking to Willeroo’s 18,752-head, three-year average, the Bretts will scale numbers back to 3500-4000 cows plus the weaners from the Willeroo and Waterloo cows.

It will also take pressure off Waterloo, which is currently carrying 13,000-14,000 cows.

Agronomists have advised Dr Brett to allow the stations two wet seasons to fully regenerate pastures but he’s also prepared for aerial seeding if the response is not as good as hoped.

Dr Brett said the family would “wait and see” how the properties complemented each other but thought it was possible the transfer of weaners to Willeroo would ultimately allow Waterloo to stock another 2000 cows.

The story Brett family plans for live-ex decline first appeared on Farm Online.