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.
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
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.