WARWICK district producers filled the Town Hall to overflowing last week to let Southern Downs Regional Council know in no uncertain terms that they did not want to see the saleyards leased out or managed by a third party.
The issue had been under consideration for some time because Council seemed convinced that it was not best placed to continue to operate the saleyards into the future.
When pressed for an answer as to how Council came to this conclusion, Mayor Tracy Dobie did not identify specific shortcomings but rather alluded to a more general perception that someone other than Council might be better placed financially and managerially to meet the future challenges associated with running the facility.
That assumption seemed to hinge on a belief that millions of dollars might be needed for future proofing in order to stay in the game.
But it was evident that those present were far from convinced of the need for such largesse.
Since the RED Scheme days of the 1970s when saleyard superintendent Harry Downie oversaw reconstruction of the yards with railway iron and concrete, the facility has given over 40 years of good service.
With the degree of structural integrity built into the facility why would it not continue in its present form to provide good service well into the future?
Certainly large investment dollars have been poured into redevelopment and upgrading saleyard facilities across the country over recent years.
Those redevelopments are understandable in the south with its freezing cold and wet winters.
Agents, buyers and onlookers would all prefer to be under a roof and soft-footed cattle off soft country are demonstrably more comfortable on a soft floor than on concrete.
But these improvements have invariably meant increases in yard fees.
A classic case in point is Pakenham in the West Gippsland district of Victoria.
Built on a greenfield site essentially as a replacement for Dandenong, it was the first soft-floor, covered saleyard in the country when it opened in 1999.
Now, yard dues alone at Pakenham (inclusive of weighing) are $24.30 per head.
While it is probably the dearest, yard dues generally in Victoria, where much of the redevelopment has occurred, are in the $16-18 range.
Warwick by comparison charges $9.15 per head and that generates an operating surplus.
Easy therefore to see why those present expressed their opposition to it leaving Council control.
And for the time being at least, it appears that Council will continue to retain control.
Mayor Dobie explained to the crowded room that two expressions of interest had been received to lease the yards but neither was considered acceptable.
Negotiations then took place with one party over a management agreement structure.
That party expressed intent to invest $5 million into the yards but rejected the management agreement terms as unacceptable.
That appears to have left Council with no alternative but to continue to run the show for the time being.
Postcard from Helsinki
FROM Santiago (capital of Chile), my postcard correspondent has moved to northern Europe and noticed some interesting differences in meat retailing practice compared to South America.
Helsinki, where this picture was taken on Sunday is the capital of Finland which has land borders with Sweden and Norway to the west and north and Russia to the east. About 1.4 million people live in the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area compared to about 2.3 million in Greater Brisbane.
As can be seen in the picture, product in this supermarket is largely displayed as fresh cuts and slices although there were some primals and smaller cuts offered in individual vacuum packs. This included some venison from New Zealand operator Silver Fern.
Volume of product overall was modest and this is in stark contrast to the South American experience where the supermarket ran a huge display of vacuum-packed primals and sub-primals.
No doubt price has a lot to do with volume turnover and in South America beef was cheap. Good quality T-bone in Chile was selling for AU$15/kg.
However in Helsinki, reasonable looking Angus striploin (porterhouse) was selling for AU$70/kg. Even lesser quality Flap (sirloin butt) was retailing for AU$46-47/kg.
Interesting too that while some product displayed modest marbling (at a higher price), most was noticeably lean or denuded of fat.
This apparently is a fairly widespread European preference.
Rates come off
UNFORTUNATELY with Monday’s public holiday in NSW, MLA’s slaughter figures were not available at time of writing but it is expected they will confirm another big kill for the first week of June.
This situation seems likely to continue through the rest of the month with one major southern Queensland processor confirming their June kill was close to full and numbers starting to trickle through for July.
As predicted in last week’s column, this continuing surge of cattle has brought some pressure to bear on prices and indicator 4-tooth ox has come off by 5c/kg to 470 and heavy cow by 10c to 405.
Cows from the drier areas are prominent in the cattle coming forward and this can be expected to continue as there will be some urgency to move anything with a bit of condition before they start to slip.
In the south meanwhile with light rain and cold weather only adding to drought misery, indications are that numbers of good finished cattle are starting to dry up.
With this week’s Monday public holiday, Monday markets of the week before would normally show increased numbers but Stock & Land analyst Peter Kostos noticed that instead the numbers were actually down.
Winter shortage and commensurate surge in price is a regular feature of the southern processing scene and it looks as though it is well underway this year with reports of ox prices now getting up around 560-580c/kg.
Indicator market Leongatha last Wednesday confirmed the trend with bullocks there reaching 321c/kg LW and averaging 314 which match the OTH quotes.