New requirements when sending cattle to Western Australia have confounded seedstock producers in the east, who say the go-it-alone state is stifling the advancement of cattle genetics at a time when the nation should be working together.
Western Australian security requirements for bringing cattle and goats over the border have always been tight but lately proving zero Bovine Johnes disease (BJD) in imported animals has become more challenging, with state demands for extensive faecal testing and presentation of animal history, especially where they roamed in the first 12 months of life.
Dr Rob Barwell, senior manager biosecurity at Animal Health Australia, says the tougher requirements are the result of a deregulated cattle market which allowed the transport of animals over huge distances within Australia, especially during the drought.
Tough BJD measures also give Western Australia cleaner access to BJD sensitive markets like Japan - something the WA Government has admitted to in the past. But the reality is WA exports most of its live cattle to markets that have minimal requirements.
Whatever the case, the regulations are here to stay and now producers of breeding genetics are asking themselves if getting into WA is worth all the hassle?
Lachlan and Kate James, Wallawong Premium Beef at Gunnedah, have exported cattle to Western Australia on three occasions over the last decade but have more recently been confronted by seemingly opaque biosecurity regulations for smaller-scale producers.
While protecting a state from the threat of BJD, the often changing testing requirements - quite different to what takes place elsewhere in Australia - is also strangling a once vibrant trade in cattle genetics between east and west.
"After many years of the Cattle Map MN program, the switch to the current JBAS 8 qualifications were supposed to provide a national standard, give clarity to producers and allow trade between the states. However, this has not prevailed and many producers now find themselves having to test well above the previous MN standards and current JBAS requirements to gain entry into WA," Mr James said.
"Anyone who falls into the under 100 homebred mature cattle category has to provide the detail and argue their case to gain access. There is currently no set protocol for those in that herd situation."
The economic impact of Bovine Johnes is actually very low compared to scours, pinkeye, black leg or pestivirus - all things producers have to deal with much more regularly, Mr James said.
"We have never had a false positive on this property. Gunnedah is generally hot and dry, Bovine Johnes likes it wet and humid," he said.
"I've been told by our previous veterinarians that the environment is not conducive, particularly temperatures in summer, and drought conditions. The disease prefers moist and humid conditions, not hot and dry."
WA requirements have reached beyond cattle transactions, with the impact being felt by livestock transporters and eastern state purchasers. Mr James said transport quotes had jumped by up to 40 per cent with a lack of back-freight returning to WA blamed on the rise.
"And as a result there is less incentive for us to buy cattle out of WA," he said. "Going forward we need a clear set of achievable guidelines, especially for the under 100 homebred category, that enables producers in the east long term future access to WA. A national approach would still be a preferred option"
Queensland-based Palgrove manager Ben Noller said opportunities to sell commercial Ultrablack cattle and Charolais stud bulls to Western Australia have been thwarted by the new regulations which would entail the faecal testing of more than 3000 head at a cost far greater than the potential return.
"We can't justify the cost for the number of bulls we might sell," he said.
"Most of our market is along the eastern seaboard but for us demand was opening up in the west. Now we have put a halt to that trade. It would be good to have that buyer diversity for when the bull market tightens up again but right now the demand for our genetics on this side of the country is very strong."
Gaining bio-secure trade access to Western Australia was one of scariest experiences for Texas Angus breeders Ben and Wendy Mayne, who recently held a record-breaking Angus sale.
However their success in meeting stringent guidelines under the new species-specific LB1 import forms, which came into effect from July 1, have meant that the Warialda stud joins an elite club of clean outfits who jumped the hoops to be able to gain keen market share from the far west.
"The whole undertaking caused the biggest anxiety," Mr Mayne said. "The old guidelines demanded that we test maybe 50 cows but under the new rules we had to test one third of the herd which in our case was 230 cows. The idea of doing that was scary - a false positive could really do us damage."
Mr Mayne said the decision to jump over the edge of the cliff and go down the path demanded by WA border security from July 1 proved correct, with the herd passing all tests. The relief is apparent,
"There has been that much demand from Western Australia," Mr Mayne said. "But cattle must be clean to enter that state. The rules are tough. The government is meticulous on bio-security. In the lead-up for us that was a massive hurdle - do we or do we not do it. It was bloody scary!"
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