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High costs, low returns threatens future

RISING production costs, below-average rainfall and market access are among some of the biggest issues facing cattle producers on the Northern Rivers.

Northern Co-operative Meat Company chief executive Simon Stahl said market access was a major factor affecting the industry - and one that could be influenced.

"Given the fact Australia exports 70% of beef production, free market access is paramount," he said.

"For example, Japan has a tax of 38.5% on imported beef and veal, (so) we must have free trade."

Mr Stahl said rainfall was another major issue, particularly for drought-stricken areas of NSW and Queensland, where producers had been forced to reduce the size of herds, in the process flooding the market and lowering the price of cattle.

"Certainly drought is a major issue and unfortunately part of the agricultural cycle no one can control. However, drought assistance packages are crucial to supporting farmers under severe circumstances."

John Gibson, a Gundurimba cattle producer, said rising production costs were making it difficult to pay the bills and discouraging younger generations from getting into the industry.

"I think if you have a look at the costs farmers have got now, they're really struggling with the overheads to make a decent living off their farms," he said.

"Our expenses are just going through the roof, and we're getting less money now than we were years ago for our cattle."

Page MP Kevin Hogan said the introduction of legislation to remove the carbon tax, once passed, would help reduce production costs such as electricity and transport.

He said the government recently signed a free trade agreement with South Korea and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce would be rallying countries like Indonesia and China to access new markets for Australia's agricultural products.

At a glance

  • The economic value of the industry to the Northern Rivers region is estimated to be $400-$500 million, according to Regional Development Australia.
  • Regional Development Australia says there are about 12,400 properties that stock beef cattle in the region.
  • Meat and Livestock Australia estimates there were 941,324 head of cattle in the Northern Rivers in 2011.