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WA farmers face daunting prospect of shooting sheep as livestock prices plummet

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Aidan SmithCountryman
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Countryman. Sheep Producer Ellen Walker with some blue tag wether lambs on her Brookton Properrty. Jackson Flindell
Camera IconCountryman. Sheep Producer Ellen Walker with some blue tag wether lambs on her Brookton Properrty. Jackson Flindell Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

Prices for some sheep have fallen to a point where it makes more economic sense to shoot rather than sell them.

That is the message from worried WA sheep farmers who say they are staring down the barrel of a crisis with many facing the daunting prospect of having to cull their flocks for the first time since the 1990s.

A combination of a lack of space in abattoirs, reduced live export shipments during summer and reduced demand has caused sheep prices to plummet during the past 12 months.

Farmers and the WA agriculture industry more broadly also believe the Albanese Government’s plan to ban the nation’s $92 million live sheep export trade — 97 per cent of which operates in WA — has eroded confidence in the industry and is largely to blame for freefalling prices.

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Sheep worth between $100 and $150 this time last year are now selling for less than $5 per head, at a time when the price of lamb has dropped just 7 per cent at the supermarket.

Chris Patmore, who farms at Eneabba, is among those preparing to shoot potentially hundreds of sheep in coming weeks.

“The damage has already been done this year … low-value sheep will be put down,” he said.

“There is no guarantee we will be able to sell (the sheep).”

Ellen Walker, a farmer in Brookton in the Wheatbelt, has about 350 adult male sheep that would normally have been sold in April, but were “stuck on the farm” with no avenue to sell.

She is also weighing up the future of 100 other sheep, which could be sold as pet food or culled if there was no alternative option.

“The start was when COVID first hit and abattoirs were unable to function fully due to staff issues, which created a backlog,” Ms Walker said. “That was carried over from the 2022 summer right through the spring of 2023.”

In the Great Southern, Lake Grace farmer Ray Bushby said he had about 1500 sheep to sell in the next six months, but had been quoted between $1 and $10 for sheep that last year would have sold for $130.

“I’ve had sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do,” Mr Bushby said. “The whole industry is going to crash soon if it’s not sorted out.”

WA Premier Roger Cook and Training Minister Simone McGurk have officially opened a new training facility for the agricultural industry at the Muresk Institute near Northam. Pictured is The Premier at the facility
Camera IconMeanwhile, Premier Roger Cook has been slammed as “way off track” after claiming the Federal Government’s plan to ban live sheep exports had no direct impact on the plummeting prices. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

Meanwhile, Premier Roger Cook has been slammed as “way off track” after claiming the Federal Government’s plan to ban live sheep exports had no direct impact on the plummeting prices.

WA’s mutton prices have plummeted 258.5¢/kg during the past 12 months to trade at its lowest level since 2007, leading the State Government to come under increasing pressure to take immediate action.

But quizzed on the issue in State Parliament last week, Mr Cook said any suggestion the price drop was linked to the planned ban was “complete and utter nonsense”.

“It is wrong to say that this (price drop) is somehow impacted by a government decision that has not been made and will not be implemented for another four years,” he said.

Nationals deputy leader Peter Rundle hit out at the Premier’s claims, saying he should get on the phone to Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to “explain the dire situation and heed the … calls to engage in crisis talks”.

The Livestock Collective director Steven Bolt, who farms at Corrigin, said it was “extremely disturbing” Mr Cook “did not understand” the link between the announcement of the live export phase-out and the dire situation.

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