Price drop concern for sheepmeat industry

By Jamie Salter

Farmers are concerned by dramatic price drops in the sheepmeat and goat industries as a result of processing disruptions.

From August 7, abattoirs with more than 25 workers were required to reduce to two-thirds of their peak workforce capacity due to coronavirus restrictions.

NSW Farmers president James Jackson said this change came at a critical stage for producers who were looking to recover from the economic impacts of drought.

“It’s not uncommon for producers to have held on to stock during the drought, absorbing the costs of feed with the expectation prices would rise and they’d be able to recoup losses afterward,” Mr Jackson said.

“Livestock producers are going to have limited numbers of stock to market in the rebuilding period post-drought.

“It would be particularly cruel for producers who have spent a fortune on keeping animals going through the drought to be denied a fair return on the stock they have to market because of labour issues in the processing industry.”

He said lamb prices were $9/kg earlier this year but had dropped closer to $5/kg.

The Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator was sitting on 683 (¢/kg cwt) for the week ending on September 8.

“Producers who purchased store lambs earlier in the year are also set to lose out, facing much lower market prices despite fattening and improving the stock,” Mr Jackson said.

He said due to coronavirus restrictions, permit systems for agriculture were required to ensure the flow of the workforce across borders.

“A high percentage of workers in processing plants are from overseas on short-term visas,” he said.

“The crisis has meant some are no longer able to stay in Australia.

“Others have simply had their access to work impeded by the restrictions and quarantine requirements.

“Processing plants have high fixed overheads, so they can’t afford workplace disruptions like these.”