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WA rides on the sheep’s back again

WA is once again set to ride on the sheep’s back but this time it is their meat international buyers are after.

Live sheep exports are steadily climbing back to the record levels of 1995 fuelled by outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever in North Africa and a low Australian dollar.

Nationally, 5.6 million sheep will be shipped overseas this year and WA is set to export more than 3 million of these.

Wellard Rural general manager Steve Meerwald said the demand for Australian sheep from traditional markets such as Kuwait, Jordan and Oman had been boosted with the hysteria associated with the viral outbreak in North Africa, which also supplied lamb products to the Middle East.

The concern has also lured Saudi Arabia back to Australian products, after they quit trading with the nation more than a decade ago.

This year will be the first full year of commercial trade to Saudi Arabia since 1990.

“Australian sheep have a reputation for being healthy and robust sheep,” Mr Meerwald said.

“Foot and mouth disease is already endemic in the Middle East… and there is now hysteria about the Rift Valley Fever outbreak.”

Prices for sheep are also on the rise as the country’s total sheep population continues to decrease.

“There has been a big drop in the sheep population. In the late 1980s there were 40 million sheep in Australia and now the population stands somewhere at under 25 million,” Mr Meerwald said.

“We are exporting more sheep than we can produce.”

WA Live Exporters chairman Alastair Moore agreed and estimated sheep prices had jumped about 30 per cent in the past three months.

“Two or three months ago you would pay $26 for a heavy wether but now you are paying something like $40,” Mr Moore said.

“In the next 12 months the numbers will decrease further, the sheep just aren’t there to export.

“But I do believe the flocks will gradually start to build up and the export levels will eventually reach the 1995 peak levels.

“I also think farmers will start to produce for the niche market of religious festivals.”

WA Meat Industry Authority chief executive officer Mike Donnelly said the healthy position of the sheep export industry could start to attract farmers back to raising the profitable animal.

“Some farmers turned to grains because sheep are a lot harder to farm but with the price of wool bouncing back and the good position of the industry, many may start looking for an opportunity to return to sheep farming,” Mr Donnelly said.

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