No plan for the Geelong saleyards

The Southern Farmer

IT has been 12 months since the Geelong Saleyards were officially de-commissioned, with no news yet on what will happen at the site.

Last month, the Greater City of Geelong released a statement confirming that a first phase environmental assessment had been undertaken – but concrete plans for a precinct development are yet to be released.

Instead, small-time producers have been left without means to sell their livestock – and no clear picture as to why the facility was allowed to continue operating short term instead of shut down.

“This has had a really significant impact on local farm operations – there’s nowhere to take stock anymore,” Graeme Brown, president of the Bellarine VFF branch, said.

“Geelong was always good for those stragglers or the odd numbers – now you’ve got to make up a load to go to Ballart (saleyards); it’s a pain in the neck.”

To further exasperate the problem, the new $24 million CVLX saleyard complex – moved from Ballarat to Miners Rest in June – means travelling distances are further depending on individual location.

“My neighbour won’t sell anymore – by the time he loads them, takes them to Ballarat and then comes home it’s a whole day gone – it’s a waste of time,” Graeme said.

“He is going to sell his stock and slash his paddock – and there are lots of others like him.”

Fiona Conroy is a beef and lamb farmer from the outer Geelong area, and is also the vice president with the VFF Bellarine branch.

Like Graeme, Fiona said the closing had been felt most by small producers.

“We always have got small numbers of animals that don’t hit the market we are aiming for – a cow that has lost a calf, a mismarked lamb – all those small lots, those small numbers; the Geelong saleyards were ideal,” Fiona said.

“Ballarat is too far – if you are only selling five sheep, it’s a long way to go.”

Right now, Fiona said buoyant prices were in the market’s favour – but worried that it might not last.

“The concern is that people will do that (travel) while animals are making really good prices, but what happens if we hit a drought and the value of animals fall dramatically – and those five sheep in the trailer are only worth $5,” she said.

The domino effect of a downturn in prices, Fiona feared, was a rise in private sales – and the risks associated with it.

“People who aren’t prepared to travel are selling their animals on Gumtree and Facebook,” she said.

“In a lot of cases there is no record of the transaction on the NLIS database, and that creates a biosecurity issue for the rest of the red meat industry.

“What it’s done (the closure) is pushed the transactions of a lot of those small lots off the grid in terms of being recorded.”

The City of Greater Geelong owns the saleyards site, and prior to their closure ran fortnightly sheep and cattle auctions.

Activity was suspended in 2017 after occupational health and safety hazards were flagged at the site the year preceding.

An independent report – completed by Zinc Cost Management and commissioned by the shire – estimated that works to repair the cattle yards to an acceptable standard would cost just shy of $3 million.

City of Greater Geelong administrator chair, Dr Kathy Alexander, said to spend millions of dollars upgrading was not in Geelong’s best interest.

At the time of going to print, more than 12 months after sales officially ceased, no precinct plan had been released.

More farming news and stories can be read in the September, 2018 print edition of The Southern Farmer or click here to access digital editions.