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13 November, 2020

Cattle sale comeback for WQLX

ONE OF Queensland's pre-eminent saleyards will be resurrected in projects worth more than $5million, promising to bring prime, store and feature cattle sales back to Longreach as early as March next year.

By Edwina Watson RURAL LEADER JOURNALIST

Set a date, implores GroWQ: James Walker (GroWQ Chair), Jack Whitby (WQLX), Clare McNeven (WQLX) and Gavin Tickle (AAMIG) discuss the return of a regular cattle sale to Longreach

That was the take-away on Friday of last week, as the Western Queensland Livestock Exchange at Longreach was one of three venues visited by new agribusiness development organisation, GroWQ, in its first agribusiness infrastructure and investment tour.

AAM Investment Group Northern Regional Manager, Gavin Tickle, said the facility had secured the multi-million dollar funding to upgrade its shade, feed and drainage infrastructure and build the State’s first selling ring for prime and store sales.

“The Longreach Regional Council has granted more than $3.1 million to WQLX under the Jobs and Regional Growth Fund,” Mr Tickle said. “On top of this, AAM has pledged a further $2.19 million to improvements over the next 18 months to two years.”

Mr Tickle said WQLX presented a solid investment opportunity.

“This facility has the core infrastructure from which we can expand on, and in June this year it gained organic status,” he said.

“On average, WQLX processes between 95,000 and 120,000 cattle annually, but now we can accommodate both conventional and organic spelling, these numbers will increase significantly.”

But Mr Tickle said the most understated asset of the facility was its water.

“The Thomson River water is second-to-none,” Mr Tickle said. “It’s the only soft water available on the highways of Western Queensland and is critical to the re-hydration of cattle.”

WQLX Manager, Clare McNeven, agreed the river water had significant benefits.                   

“Whether it be bellowing weaners just off mum, or fat bullocks in from the Channel Country, they enter the yards and lap up the water,” Ms McNeven said. “You can hear all troughs running.”

Ms McNeven said her team was well equipped to host a successful sale in the New Year.

“We’re very mindful, respectful and aware of why the Longreach sale stopped,” she said. “In 2012 and 2013 we were in the grips of an horrendous drought.

“We’re also very respectful and aware of people’s confidence levels. People want to send their cattle where they can sell with confidence.”

Ms McNeven said in marketing a new Longreach sale, actions spoke louder than words.

“In 2019 we put more than 9000 head of cattle through two sales in Longreach, held one week apart,” she said. “These sales were very quick, competitive and successful, with most lots exceeding expectations by 30 to 40 cents.

“In the second sale, Nutrien was out the front selling gumboots,” she laughed. “It was a slop, it was horrendous, but the buyers still turned out and prices were wonderful.

“We’ve got the infrastructure, we’ve got the manpower, and we know we can run a sale. My team could run a sale tomorrow.”

A joint venture 

Nutrien Western Managing Partner, Boyd Curran, said agents must work together to secure “the big players” among buyers and vendors for Longreach.

“You need at least 1000 head of cattle for a successful sale,” Mr Curran said. “The more cattle you have, the more buyers you have, the greater the competition and the stronger the money.

“We saw this at Blackall last week. More than 5500 head were yarded, buyers came from everywhere and price records were smashed.

“Agents should collaborate with the Longreach Shire Council to lock in a date, lock in cattle and advertise the first Longreach sale for 2021.”

Mr Curran said the greatest point of difference WQLX would have with other selling centres was its proposed new selling ring.

“There is no other regular cattle sale through-the-ring in all of Queensland,” he said, “but it’s the way of the future. An all-weather facility will benefit buyers, sellers and agents.

“There will be seating ringside and also improved audio and camera angles for the online bidding portal StockLive. Dealing with people both on-the-floor and online will promote better working relationships.

“In the initial stages, StockLive will mitigate risk. We know buyers are keen. At the moment cattle are short and buyers will drive to the other end of the country to source stock.

“It will prove more difficult to convince vendors to sell at Longreach. It’s the fear of the unknown.

“For instance, our clients in the north famously hate the saleyards. They watch one pen of three scrawny cattle picked over by buyers, and that’s what they remember. There is a lot of trust involved.

“An improved StockLive experience will open the sale to more buyers and see vendors receive every last dollar for their stock.

“Historically, Blackall and Roma have set very high cattle prices, but once we build momentum and get those runs on the board for Longreach, the rest will take care of itself.”

GroWQ Chairperson, James Walker, implored agents to set a date for the first sale.

“There is great urgency to see a cattle sale run in Longreach again,” Mr Walker said. “Conditions at the moment are excellent, with a very strong cattle market, forecasted La Nina and recent rains.

“The only break-down here is in an apartment building syndrome, of sorts. If you ask the question, ‘Who reports the malfunctioning elevator?’ ‘Who reports the leaking tap?’ ‘Who reports gunshots?’ each person in the apartment will say it was someone else’s job.

“Now the agents must take ownership of the sale, set a date, and GroWQ will be there to assist in any way it can.

“I will never forget as a child, buying my first pen of cattle. I would love my children to also experience the theatre of buying and trading livestock, of getting them home, of feeding and nurturing them. It’s a special thing.”

Boyd Curran said the first sale should be held as early as March 2021.

“If we get good rain, a cattle sale before Easter would be ideal,” Mr Curran said.

“If we received 500 to 600 head in one consignment, we could then build numbers around that. AAM have a considerable herd themselves, and I’m sure they would also be strong supporters.”

No man or business is an island

GroWQ’s agribusiness infrastructure and investment tour last Friday served as the first event to kick-start the newly-developed organisation.

GroWQ Executive, Anna Cochrane, said in its first 12 months the company hoped to form a network that focused on new technologies, opportunities and ways of doing business.

“No business is an island,” Ms Cochrane said. “By bringing local people together, we’re learning from each other.

“Changing the way we produce food, that’s all big-sky stuff. But GroWQ has worked with the Central Highlands Development Corporation and the Food and Agribusiness Network on the Sunshine Coast, and they’ve both said the greatest benefits to these organisations is forming meaningful relationships across the agriculture supply chain.”

Ms Cochrane said GroWQ began as an iteration of the Longreach Shire Council’s agricultural advisory committee.

“Our committee held a number of community consultations with Longreach producers and industry stakeholders, and what we received was an enormous list of issues that fell out of the council’s sphere of influence,” she said.

“So we applied to have the committee dissolved and to create the independent body GroWQ.”

Gavin Tickle said the Inland Rail Network that bypasses WQLX could present the next opportunity to Longreach producers.

“The overarching mission of AAM is to have a positive and lasting impact on the agricultural sector in the areas in which we operate,” Mr Tickle said.

“Last week, 48 wagons passed through with only two decks of cattle on board,” he said. “If we develop some form of specialised loading system, we can fill those empty carriages with all of the commodities with a centralised hub in Rockhampton — fertiliser, grain and more — and we can get these out at a much more affordable rate for all.”

TopX Longreach Livestock Agent and Auctioneer, Tom Boyle, also suggested a livestock aggregation facility for WQLX.

“Things are proving difficult for our sheep producers with many back in numbers,” Mr Boyle said.

“Our clients have got half a deck or a deck of sheep to send away, and trucks must go 100 kilometres down one road, turn back, and travel another 100 kilometres down another road in one big loop.”

Mr Tickle agreed the concept of a sheep and goat depot for WQLX should be developed further.

“AAM has a history of re-investing in the community,” Mr Tickle said. “If this is a concern of producers, and we can provide a more sustainable alternative, we will do all that we can.”

The tour also took in the new upgrade to the Longreach Kangaroo Processing Facility and the newly up-and-running Longreach Abattoir.

Mr Walker said he received excellent feedback from the day.

“We had a great turnout of people, and many rich discussions on the possibilities for agriculture specifically in Western Queensland,” Mr Walker said.

“We have big plans for the next three to five years, but for now we would encourage anyone interested in becoming a member, sponsor or partner to get in touch. 

“This is a really exciting organisation, driving new ideas, friendships and economic opportunity.”


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