By Matt Sherrington; (Pictures supplied)
Live export is a fundamental cornerstone of Northern Australia’s economic fabric.
The importance of the live cattle trade is particularly amplified across the nations’ regional communities with the majority of northern cattle production designed to meet the requirements of the Southeast Asian market.
At the heart of this industry lies the enduring partnership between Australia and Southeast Asian nations, particularly Indonesia.
Australia operates as a provider of quality protein with the knowledge and resources to breed and raise cattle to a feeder weight and then export to countries like Indonesia, where agricultural bi-products are plentiful for feed lotting these cattle in preparation for slaughter, and then local consumption.
However, Grayson Webster, a compliance manager for a privately owned Australian export company said the start of this long and unusual food journey, rarely seen by outsiders, begins with Brahman cattle on Australian soil.
“The “factory floor” of this global supply chain begins beyond the home gates of our Australian Brahman breeders where genetics are carefully selected for stud sale cattle that will eventually come to enter commercial breeding operations across Northern Australia,” Ms Webster said.
She said Brahman cattle are highly appreciated in importing countries, as the breed is renowned for its adaptability to diverse climates and feeding conditions, making it the preferred choice in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
“The Brahmans’ efficient feed conversion and leanness of meat make them highly favoured among consumers and butchers in the region.”
This trade not only involves the export of cattle but also encompasses the dissemination of global animal welfare standards, with the blending of Islamic practices with Western knowledge, it is a unique business model designed to ensure optimal welfare and operational efficiency.
“This industry not only drives economic growth but also fosters positive social impacts by generating employment opportunities.
“From truck drivers transporting cattle to feedlot operations and abattoirs, jobs created in the live cattle export supply chain support families in destination countries.
“Approximately one Indonesian family is supported for every five to 10 head of cattle exported, underscoring the industry’s significant contribution to livelihoods and food security.”
Ms Webster said the ports of Broome, Wyndham, Darwin, and Townsville serve as vital conduits for Northern livestock exports, with approximately 614,000 head exported from Australia in the 2022/2023 financial year, including 324,633 feeder cattle destined for Indonesia.
“However, navigating the ever-changing landscape of exporting protein to the world is not without its challenges.
“As we all know, any agriculturally based business is at the mercy of many influences out of our control, this applies also to the live export industry.
“Leading challenges include biosecurity threats, market disruptions, and the dangers of misguided government policy.
“Some of the systems that govern live export are overbearing, expensive and sometimes, ultimately ineffective.”
Ms Webster said the export industry’s relationship with the government both at a state-based level and federally has remained paramount to the trades’ ability to navigate these challenges as they arise.
“This in turn assists in helping inform good government policy and decision making.”
She said the export of cattle from northern Australia to Southeast Asia has withstood a global pandemic, the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease in Indonesia, record high cattle prices, rising input prices, and global financial uncertainties.
“However, all these factors have ultimately strengthened relationships between producers, exporters, and importers which has been a huge positive over the last two years.”
Ms Webster said the live export industry, grounded in the resilient Brahman cattle breed, stands as a testament to the enduring partnership between Australia and Southeast Asian nations.
“The industry’s positive economic and social impacts, coupled with the continuous commitment to animal welfare and industry collaboration, illuminate a future where mutual prosperity and sustainable practices prevail.”