There's a high proportion of replacement ewes flowing through the Warwick Saleyards.
There's a high proportion of replacement ewes flowing through the Warwick Saleyards. Chris Lines

Fears remote towns could clear out as farmers sell up stock

GRAVE fears small farming communities could become 'virtual ghost towns' have come to the fore as a concerning trend ripples through the Warwick Saleyards.

It's sparked a renewed call to support remote towns and buy local to help producers who are being forced to sell stock they would otherwise hold on to due to the devastating drought.

McDougall and Sons stock agent Ross Ellis said many sheep producers were at the stage in this harsh drought where they were selling their replacement ewes.

These are ewes they would usually keep to potentially breed over the next couple of years, he said.

"The problem is the ewe portion in the yarding is getting higher, that's the scary bit,” MrEllis said.

Mr Ellis said this trend would lead to shortfall at the saleyards eventually, as less progeny flows through.

But even if it does rain, stock at the yards was still likely to be thinner than normal as people held on to stock to rebuild.

The kill ratio nationally is also significantly higher than would normally be seen, while prices for very young replacement ewes were also higher - about the $16/kg dress weight mark, he said.

This makes it difficult to buy back stock and be viable down the track.

Producers are being forced to make tough business decisions. MrEllis says it's not uncommon for growers to supply stock into the market, who were running both cattle and sheep, with costs up to $100,000 a month to keep them going.

"The grim picture isn't being fully appreciated by people in government or the general public, they really don't understand how bad it is,” MrEllis said.

Mr Ellis said the flow-on effect of the reduced stock numbers would hit remote rural areas the hardest, where communities were built on sheep and depend on income from landowners.

"You'll see a lot of smaller towns turning into virtual ghost towns,” he said.

"Once the sheep are gone or the cattle are gone then there's no employment for the families and that starts the runaround.

"If you've got no people in those rural towns then they won't spend any money there, then the branches of the local businesses suffer as well as the individuals.

"If they close then it makes it even harder for those people in those remote areas.”

The flow-on effect could also cause prices in the supermarket and butchers to rise, as well as creating less casual work opportunities for people in saleyards and abattoirs.

Mr Ellis said venturing out and spending a few dollars was a great way to support producers and the local economy. "Have a drive up to Stanthorpe, buy a few things, have a look around, buy a coffee, it doesn't hurt but it keeps people going,” he said.

"People should realise that the growers aren't dictating the prices they have to pay, it's simply the supply and demand situation.”

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