Sheep meat

Innovative WA sheep farmer makes ‘serious cry for help’

Terry Sim, April 19, 2024

THE frustrations of Western Australian sheep farmers battling with low prices and the proposed live export trade phaseout has been highlighted in the recent social media posts of struggling WA farmer Wayne Smith.

Mr Smith’s 17 April Caluka Farms post on X, formerly Twitter, that he was organising to shoot sheep received more than 831,000 views by today, prompting a flood of comments ad advice.

“It is such very hard times for sheep farmers in Western Australia. It’s been a very teary day for me. Started organising a neighbour to dig a pit big enough to put 3,000+ sheep in. This video shows our beautiful lambs. I can’t cope with the thought of shooting them. No buyers,” the Caluka Farms post said.

“When no one can buy them, there is no more money to buy feed for them (if you can find any to buy), there is no feed in the paddocks and sometimes no water, there is no choice. We can’t let them suffer from hunger and thirst. It breaks our hearts having to do it. Gut wrenching,” Mr Smith said.

Wayne Smith.

Mr Smith posted that he had been trying for many months to sell down his flock.

“Had 6,000. Down to 4,600 but 1400+ are dropping lambs. Can’t sell them for another few months. It’s been brick walls trying to sell them. Our agent is working really hard, but so many are in the same boat and can’t buy them, nor take them.”

Mr Smith posted many had already made the decision to shoot sheep.

“I’m just not as strong, yet, but there is no other option for hundreds and hundreds of sheep farmers. This is all political. Records imports and prices overseas, but we are being squashed and blocked in Australia, especially West Australia.”

Government policy and lack of rain made it tough

Sheep Central has been unable to contact Mr Smith, but was been told by his friend and crop consultant and no-till pioneer Bill Crabtree that he is well-respected in the state and is “a champion of innovation.”

Mr Smith is the director of Agronomic Acumen, an agricultural consultancy firm that specialises in agronomy “and helps farmers to achieve crop yields and livestock production beyond what was thought possible.” His website says he has an Honours degree in Agricultural Science (majoring in Agronomy) from the University of Western Australia. After six years as a research scientist with the Department of Agriculture in Western Australia, he started his private consulting business in 1992.

Mr Crabtree said Mr Smith had been able to sell some of sheep and lambs “for a low rate,” and hasn’t had to shoot any yet.

“Not yet, he will keep that option open.”

Mr Crabtree said the “two Gs have got him (Mr Smith)” — an Act of God in the lack rainfall for eight months and an Act of Government in the live sheep trade phaseout policy.

“He wouldn’t have anticipated eight months of no rain.

“He’s been an innovation champion, but the two things have come together and made it tough.”

Mr Crabtree said Mr Smith has been able to quadruple the stocking rates or Dry Sheep Equivalent capacity of his land to run 4000 sheep on his 180 hectare (arable) farm between Albany and Mt Barker for the last four years, by investing in soil fertility, pasture quality and sheep handling innovations.

“Normally he would be able to hang onto the sheep because he normally gets rain up to November and it starts again in March, but this year it has been eight months of very dry weather – it hasn’t rained since September and no rain now.

“He will have to let the whole thing go.”

Mr Crabtree said Wayne Smith has been an innovation champion and his “right-hand man and co-leader” during the no-till revolution in the state.

“Wayne inspired people to believe that they could grow really high-yielding crops and one of his favourite sayings was ‘a tortoise doesn’t make any progress unless it sticks its neck out’.”

A ‘serious cry for help’ – Hassell

WA Farmers president John Hassell said Mr Smith’s posts were “a serious cry for help.”

“The dire prices for sheep have essentially forced him into receivership, so they’ve been sold out.

“But since he put that post on there (X) he has had some people take the lambs – I don’t know whether he has sold them or given them away and the rest of the sheep I just don’t know.”

Mr Hassell said an AgForm analysis of mutton prices in Western Australia last week showed that mutton was selling at 80c/kg cwt in WA, with the national mutton indicator of 266c/kg. The mutton indicators in the other states were Queensland 182c/kg, South Australia 191c/kg, Tasmania 205c/kg, Victoria 284c/kg and New South Wales 297c/kg.

Mr Hassell said the problem Western Australia had was that Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt and even the WA Premier Roger Cook did not accept that the proposed phaseout of the live sheep export trade by sea was affecting the price of sheep in the state.

“The reality is that it (the phaseout policy) has had a massive effect on the sheep prices in Western Australia and it certainly has an effect on the cattle as well.

He said livestock exporters were already redirecting their vessels to service other markets because of the Federal Government’s phaseout policy.

“But also, they haven’t invested in the ships to maintain them.”

This meant that were fewer live sheep vessels were servicing the WA market and fewer opportunities for associated live cattle exports, Mr Hassell said.

“And the season finished in September last year, which is very early and so people didn’t have the conserved fodder, huge numbers of farms have more stock on their farms than they have ever had before because they haven’t been able to turn them off.

“And we are not able to sell because there is an oversupply.”

The disruptions to air freight flights into the Middle East – due to the Qatar Airlines decision and Iran-Israeli conflict — stopped trade that totalled 15,000 lambs a week, he said.

“An avalanche of issues have all hit us at once and Murray Watt then pretends that it is nothing to with the live trade issue.”

Mr Hassell said there are proposals to shorten the three month self-imposed moratorium on Middle East live sheep exports during the northern summer that normally starts on 1 June.

“It needs to be shortened now, but the problem is the boats are already not coming.

“I think they should be shortening it by two months down to just August,” he said.

“My goal is to defeat this (live sheep phaseout policy) policy, it is a shocking policy, but I don’t think Murray Watt realises how bad it is and is pandering to the Greens, inner city lefties and the Animal Justice Party.

“If there are any animal welfare issues being caused now it is down to them 100 percent,” Mr Hassell said.

“The RSPCA, the Greens, the Animal Justice Party have caused this, no-one else.”

Mr Hassell said Mr Smith has been to lift his year-round stocking rate to 45 DSEs, but is not unable to turn off stock when necessary because of the lack of abattoir space and downturn in live sheep  export demand.

Episode 3 analyst Matt Dalgleish’s most recent post ‘A critical time’ outlines why viable year-round marketing options for WA sheep producers are needed, with the impact of airfreight disruptions, price differences leading to the movement of sheep from Western Australia to eastern states and the loss of the live export avenue for turnoff until mid-September due to the moratorium. Mr Dalgleish said science and economics favoured a shortening of the live export moratorium to the month of August.

“He (Mr Smith) is not the only one over there, I’ve seen several others in his position.”


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  1. Elizabeth Weston, April 22, 2024

    Obviously breeding far too many sheep for the conditions. Hay should be available to cover a drought.

    Live export of sheep should be stopped right now.

    • Glenn Nix, April 22, 2024

      Not being unable to sell the sheep is the problem. South of Mt Barker gullies are normally green year-round and perennials do well on coastal showers that are regular if you have ever been to Albany. History has shown that most growers carry enough fodder for the bad seasons. This is a season with out precedent and you can add that that processing problems and lack of ships. You would just make things worse stopping the boats.

  2. John Brunt, April 22, 2024

    These voted leaders are not leaders. It is a bit tough following their leadership when blind Freddy can see that they are leading the nation and its people into a trap set outside this country. They are content to create unrest within individual lives here and overseas and to dictate ideas and regulations in a way that a bully does in the school yard. I am impressed by the courageous wise innovative people who go about improving their systems despite these useless despots blocking the flow constantly. It’s the cry of the loudest voice that gets listened to not studied and taught just listened to and obeyed. Unwise and undisciplined they create laws that do more damage than the few people who do a poor job of keeping livestock. In the process they hurt people on a scale that has long reaching effects instead of helping the people who need help. The department of agriculture used to help people with issues, but not now.

  3. Geoff Richardson, April 21, 2024

    We are advised to euthanise our sheep, because of over-supply and possible drought, yet I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the ad to donate to the starving children in Yemen, which is a public announcement for us to donate, not the government. Maybe instead of shooting our stock they could pay us a donation fee and ship the animals to Yemen and Gaza to help those people in need and let the farmers get an income to carry them through these tough times? Probably not, too practical, better to shoot animals than to help save lives including some farmers who could take their own because of this city centric government. Face it if you live outside the metro area this mob doesn’t care unless you’re in the mining industry.

  4. Brendan Mahoney, April 21, 2024

    The biggest live sheep exporter in the world is the EU at 2,600,000 sheep a year. The second biggest live sheep exporter in the world is Romania (right next door to EU) at 2,500,000 sheep a year.
    The Gillard Government cost me about $340,000.00 over four years from 2011. Albanese is costing me nearly the same now because of the uncertainty in Western Australia.
    I’m a little sheep farmer in Victoria.
    Farmers shoot a lot of stock under a Labor government. The Greens need to understand that any animal neglect only happens when they are worthless.
    Murray Watt needs to come clean and farmers should be allowed to participate in the live sheep trade the same as our European competitors. Who is the trade minister at the moment? Lights on and no-one home?

    At the Bendigo MLA meeting last November, under the big banner “MLA International Markets” the nice chap there heading up that department didn’t even know who our biggest live sheep export competitor was.

    Another nice chap described east/west transport of sheep across the Nullabor didn’t indicate any significant number change. I asked about dead sheep….. in chiller boxes. If the sheep can be purchased/ slaughtered in Western Australia at a $2/kg discount…… 20,000 kg on a truck = $40,000.
    It doesn’t cost $40,000.00 to run a refrigerated truck across the Nullabor.

    The dilemma in WA is not confined to WA. But it is confined to Australia, and MLA, which is controlled by the federal government needs a good kick up the arse.

  5. Katrina Love, April 20, 2024

    I guess this demonstrates that live sheep export is not the silver bullet or golden goose that people would have you believe it is; because we currently have live sheep exports, we have Saudi Arabia back in the mix and yet overseas buyers don’t want our live sheep as much as industry and its supporters would have you believe.

    And no – it’s not the imminent closure of the live sheep trade – these exports have been on a steady downward trajectory since 2001. The decline averages out to -9.43 percent per year from 2001 to 2023, with year-to-year decline every year except 2004-5, 2005-6, 2007-8, 2013-14, and 2022-23 and a total decline in sheep exported live from 2001 to 2023 of 89.6pc). Yes, it rose from 2022-to 2023 by 148k thanks to Saudi Arabia, but why would you re-open a market that was closed for good reason, so close to a live sheep export ban?

    Producers have known the end was coming for at least five years now; still, they continue to run their sheep productions as though nothing will change, as if Australia is a good place to run sheep – like we don’t have constant drought or fire or flood or below-freezing mornings, or predators, and like live sheep exports by sea to the Middle East for fully conscious slaughter can be regulated or humane.

    Time to evolve.

  6. Glenn nix, April 19, 2024

    The brown stuff has hit the fan. Albo can’t be told. This was always going to happen when we got a bad season. Live export is the ‘best get out of jail’ in a tough season. The WA premier can’t be told, Murray Watt won’t come to WA. Jackie Jarvis is useless. But don’t worry, you can get counseling after you shoot your sheep.

    • Katrina Love, April 20, 2024

      And this in the year after the first year that saw an increase in live sheep exports since 2013-14., with 148k more exported in 2023 than 2022.

      Gee… maybe the live export ban that hasn’t even happened yet isn’t to blame and maybe the live sheep trade is not the golden goose or silver bullet – pick your metal – that you lot like to tell us it is.

      Maybe it’s just the fact that Australia is even more unpredictable and inhospitable than it’s always been if you’re an introduced ovine or bovine, and even with the live sheep trade — as we still currently have it — sheep “farming” is just a risky business in this country and more so for the sheep than the producers.

      At least those sheep don’t face the prospect of weeks at sea and fully conscious slaughter or any slaughterhouse for that matter – a bullet in the head is the best death a sheep in Australia can look forward to.

      • Glenn Nix, April 22, 2024

        Katrina Love you have told me in the past there is enough processing to handle the live sheep … well you’re wrong. They won’t even look at buying shipping sheep. When ships go via South Africa and the horn because of a possible ban and meatworks can’t handle the work even with hundreds of thousands going east, you end up with farmers having to shoot not just poor sheep, but the good ones as well. The Saudi trade is early days and will grow if allowed.

      • Gail Ward, April 20, 2024

        I am sure Mr Smith would be very appreciative if Katrina Love, volunteered her services to help shoot sheep if she genuinely believes ‘a bullet in the head is the best death a sheep in Australia can look forward to’. Don’t worry, you can get counselling afterwards.

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