Judith Wright wrote of a "wide brown land", and how right she was.
A couple of weeks ago we took the opportunity, thanks to long time friend Michael Jackson of Guyra, to fly over Lake Eyre.
"Greatest thing I have done in Australia," he said. What a marvellous sight - the famous Channel Country from the air.
Flying over the Cooper, Diamantina, and Warburton was quite a sight to behold. Then overnight at the Birdsville Hotel. One wonders what Judith would have written after such a trip. Old guide, Rex Ellis, explained,"Muslim like to go to Mecca - Aussies like to go to Lake Eyre". Great analogy - we flew over great numbers of travellers with their caravans.
I had to open with this very positive story because even though the prices for well finished livestock have never been higher for beef, lamb, mutton, and goat meat, the seasonal outlook has seldom been worse. We did find a couple of clues for agistment while in the centre.
You could flog a flea over most of the country from Warwick to Walcha and Tamworth then back to Inverell. That doesn't include the Hunter.
I came to Glen Innes in 1974, not long after the "1965" drought, which had obviously been forgotten as many a comment was made to the effect that "we don't get droughts in the Northern tablelands - only the odd dry pinch". I was sold because they were fattening cattle on top pasture into the mid-winter!
The dry times are so difficult to handle, as tough decisions have to be reached, which are often made on the run. May I add - a little like the approach of our Government bodies! Old friend and client, John Ivey, was one of the best I have known. The sniff of a dry time and John reduced numbers.
Circumstances are vastly different for all producers so one cap does not fit all. Those who made the tough decision to sell cows early have put $1200 to $1500 in the bank. They will be able to give some cheek when times improve and cows make $3000 a head.
Prices paid by processors for livestock have defied historical trend lines of the past 40 years as they usually took the opportunity to give us a touch up. Not so this year, so the export market must be good. China killing pigs by the million (diseased), might help.
Our lamb and sheep prices have never been better. Saleyard discussions have centred around the easing of prices which must happen when the new season suckers hit the market in numbers. Might be a while. For all the talk contracts have been put out at 1000 cents a kilogram.
Andrew Jackson, northern livestock manager for Thomas Foods, with whom I work, left for a holiday to fly over lake Eyre with the company price grid sitting on 800c/kg. It is now on 900c/kg. He will have to sharpen his buyers' pencil as numbers hit a seasonal low in the north.
Talking to leading young agent from Nyngan, Simon Bell, the other day he commented that most sale sheep have left his district and he was thankful that properties were still selling so he could pay his way. He made the comment that it will take some years to restock in some areas and rain will not necessarily bring a change of fortunes.
This drought is far reaching, with not only primary producers in trouble with water, but large towns as well. Our town has always had water issues until the councillors in their wisdom purchased a huge quarry and filled it with water. Great decision!
Annual bull sales start in earnest next week. This will be a huge test for all, with 1000 Angus bulls to be offered in the next month. Old friend Arthur Cox tested the water in late May as usual and didn't clear all at an average of $5300. We watch with interest and wish all, the best of support.
I could not finish without a comment on the retirement of Andy Madigan as chief executive of Australian Livestock and Property Agents. He has always been forthright and clear in his advice to stock and station agents. He will no doubt be a little disappointed that he was unable to get agreement between the states for a national licence for agents. He must not dwell on it. His service to our industry has been exemplary.
All the best of good fortune, Andy, as you turn the next page of your life.
- Tony Corcoran is an agent at Glen Innes and a member of Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association.