Beef industry at risk from water cuts

23rd April 2007Uncertainty surrounds the Federal Government’s Murray Darling water cuts, with conflicting messages about whether water will be available for livestock causing angst within the beef industry.

Prime Minister John Howard announced last Thursday that without big rain in the next six weeks, all extraction entitlements would be slashed to zero, with water only to be used for human consumption and not for livestock.

However, on Friday Assistant Water Minister, John Cobb, moved to clarify the situation, saying the cuts would only apply in the southern part of the Basin, and stock water would still be allowed to be extracted.

The uncertainty has the Cattle Council of Australia worried that a ban on stock water could inflict unprecedented pressure on Australia’s beef industry.

“The Cattle Council is working through the Prime Minister’s announcement in detail and is taking a strong position that access to drinking water for stock is essential and must be protected,” CCA president Bill Bray said.

“Of course human requirements are of primary importance; however, we are wary of any approach that focuses on an immediate threat at the expense of cattle producers and the industry that they have built.”

Mr Bray says the drought in southern Australia has already led to a crisis in feed supply, an issue which must be urgently addressed as part of the water shortage response.

“We are hearing stories of cattle producers spending upwards of $1 million on cattle feed,” Mr Bray said.

“This cannot continue.”

Next week the Cattle Council will meet with farmers in Victoria’s Western District to discuss feed shortages, and to identify solutions and ideas for addressing the crisis.

“We believe that cattle producers should be involved in working through the solutions in such extreme situations, rather than losing all options for survival,” Mr Bray said.

“We intend to fully engage all stakeholders and to present a range of practical solutions to the government.”

He fears, though, that the worsening drought situation, and possible restrictions to stock water, is likely to force the hand of producers, leading to a large number of cattle being sold for slaughter.

The immediate effect is likely to be downward pressure on stock prices and that Australia’s breeding herd may be depleted in the longer term.

SOURCE: Queensland Country Life, weekly rural newspaper, posting news updates daily on FarmOnline