TEN years ago, when the Korumburra saleyards were closed, and South Gippsland’s cattle market operations were shifted to Koonwarra (VLE Leongatha), there were concerns the move would be bad for the industry.
Many were cautious that the promises made to upgrade the Koonwarra site to cater for increased cattle volumes would not come to fruition.
It didn’t take long for those fears to subside, however, and all agree now that the move has been a blessing for vendors, buyers and stock agents.
Aside from the obvious benefits of a fully roofed facility and soft flooring for the animals, it’s also a high tech venue with its computer systems offering convenience and better buying and selling options.
Behind it all has been the VLE (Victorian Livestock Exchange), working closely with stock agents to ensure continuous improvement at the site.
VLE CEO Wayne Osborne said the VLE Leongatha facility will continue to evolve.
“In our first full year here 90,000 head went through the yards, and this year we’re looking at 150,000 to 160,000.
“Each year, we have more than the last.
“In the past 12 months there’s been a series of informal discussions between us and the agents about how much more space we’re going to need because we are running out of room.
“We have a maximum capacity of 4000 cattle and we’d like to increase that by 1000.
“There is space at the site for expansion, and there are still quite a few things we plan to do which were in the original plans, such as a truck wash area, building a catchment dam and resurfacing the driveway area.
“We’re also looking at ways in which we could diversify the business.”
He said the VLE will continue to invest in the site.
“There are things we’ve done that are easy for people to see, and then there are some that are not so obvious.”
The recent extension expanded the under-roof area by about one third, making it VLE’s largest undercover facility. It was already handling more cattle than VLE’s Sale and Pakenham sites.
More selling and holding pens will be constructed soon.
The continuous development of the computer system, though, is providing the biggest benefit to vendors, buyers and stock agents.
“The computer tracks every animal, which allows vendors to join forces for economic marketing power.
“We can mix animals from across the entire yarding so buyers can get the quantities they’re after.
“It means that they can buy one animal each from 10 different farmers, which previously would have difficult for the stock agents to arrange, but because the computer identifies who owns what animal and their weights, it’s a simple process.
“Buyers will pay a premium to get what they want, which increases the returns for the farmers.
“We believe these sorts of outcomes have been a major factor in our success.
“Buyers have worked out what the system does, the vendors appreciate it and the stock agents have become quite protective of it because it saves them half to a full labour unit a day.”
Wayne said the VLE feels the hits in the industry when the producers do.
“The past four years have been some of our toughest. There were things we wanted to do that we had to put off so we could stick to our core.
“But it seems to be improving now. We’ve had really good prices in the past 18 months after beef went through a tough period. Prices had been stagnant for three or four years and then went up by 50 per cent in less than 12 months.
“While the fizz has come out of it now, the prices are still good and seem to have stabilised which will mean that the things we’ve wanted to do here are now possible.”
The venue already attracts buyers and vendors from across the state and beyond.
“They see Leongatha as the benchmark for prices, quantity and animal quality – one of the big buyers said this is the best facility is south eastern Australia.
“When we started out, there was considerable public attention from people who were cautious.
“But as they’ve came to see it and use it, that position has changed.
“There were a couple of agents in particular who were very anxious and outspoken but to their credit, they’ve apologised – a good measure of the men.
“It’s confirmed what we’ve always felt.”
Wayne said that working with such a great group of forward thinking stock agents has helped VLE Leongatha become the best.
“The element that VLE has had over the years and which has translated through in to what Leongatha is now, is that the key decision makers within VLE, be it company directors or management, are people who have had a vested interest in the improvement of the industry combined with having backgrounds in the various sectors of the industry.
“They include farmers or former livestock agents or transport operators, through to staff who have backgrounds in being stock agents, farmers or working for meat companies.
“Having that background and an understanding of the various parties has allowed us to link factors together and build layer upon layer.
“We appreciate that administrative tasks detract agents from what they do best and what farmers really pay them for which is marketing livestock.
“We aim to improve the design of systems to free up agents to do this.
“We consider how meat companies wish to source cattle and get information quickly and how understanding animal behaviour can improve yard designs.
“All of these elements link together to provide better returns for farmers.
“Whilst we wouldn’t go so far as to say we fully know every factor each party has to deal with, we would say that having a good appreciation of the commercial drivers of the various parties has given VLE the ability to understand their needs and create a market place that provides benefits for all. This has been the underlying current that has driven Leongatha’s popularity.
“You could say it’s a case of we get it because we’ve either done it or still do it.
“It’s this that has set us apart from the municipal-owned and operated saleyards.”