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Grazing markets in Cape York


At present the majority of cattle from Cape York are sold through the yards at Mareeba, in North East Queensland, where sales are conducted weekly. The road system in the area is considered a major limitation, both in terms of the number of cattle that can be moved at one time, and the seasonality of access. In addition, the costs of shifting the cattle many hundreds of kilometres is high, in terms of both hiring vehicles and the cattle's condition. Compared to other regions in Queensland all producers in Cape York are subject to very high transport costs. Indeed, apart from wages, freight costs for both inputs and cattle sales represents the biggest single operating cost for Cape York producers.

Live export

The alternative market is live cattle export out of Weipa. However, there are still some constraints on the capacity of Cape York producers to take advantage of this market. The first is that most producers simply do not sell cattle mobs of a size sufficient to fill a livestock transport ship. Coordination between producers to muster a mob of required size and quality is therefore required. This process could be facilitated by holding yards and other infrastructure adjacent to the port.

The second related issue is that buyers in the live cattle market tend to have beast standards above that which are produced in much of the region. Nevertheless two live export boats went out of Weipa in 1999, and two in 1998. Improved productivity, both in terms of overall numbers and in beast quality, would need to be achieved before full advantage could be taken of this expanding market.

Future of the pastoral industry in Cape York

While much of the cattle grazing industry is only marginally viable in Cape York, pastoralists probably represent the most significant group of land managers simply by virtue of the area they oversee. The Cape York Peninsula Regional Advisory Group (CYPRAG), established to set in motion outcomes from CYPLUS, has outlined the way forward for the industry, in line with the principles of sustainable development.

Their recommendations include more than doubling stocking rates in Cape York, improving pest and land degradation controls, upgrading infrastructure and export facilities at Weipa and identifying natural advantages which producers can utilise. The Queensland State Government has agreed to contribute funding in some areas such as infrastructure development.

In addition, the Federal Government has allocated $40 million from the Natural Heritage Trust for the region. This funding is tagged however to those projects with conservation related outcomes. Nevertheless some of this will be available to graziers for projects like fencing off areas which are sensitive to overgrazing such as river frontages, and weed and feral animal control. In addition, the Cape York Property Planning Technical Group has been established, which is cooperating with producers to improve productivity and ecological sustainability via better management and planning practices.