Saleyards idea shelved

A greenfield livestock exchange in the Latrobe Valley has been “put on ice” until at least one other Gippsland saleyard closes.

Latrobe City Council endorsed the findings of a pre-feasibility study into establishing an estimated $7 million saleyard in the Valley, but decided to take no further action at its regular meeting on Monday.

The $10,000 study said such a facility would face significant competition and would need throughput from established operations in Warragul, Sale and Leongatha.

Councillor Graeme Middlemiss said the motion put the aspirations of a facility on ice.

“We’re not taking any action, but if things change in the future to make this viable (we will look at it again). It’s a holding, watching period to see what happens in the industry,” Cr Middlemiss said.

Proponent, Hazelwood North farmer and former Morwell abattoir owner Don Evenden and a group of farmers have met with council officers since February 2013.

They argue the Sale and Warragul saleyards are “inadequate” , with some sellers opting to transport livestock to Koonwarra or Pakenham more than 80 kilometres away.

Mr Evenden told The Express he was grateful council had taken an interest in the concept and hoped it would continue to pursue investigations.

However, he had concerns the project might stagnate for years if pinned on the closure of the Baw Baw Livestock Exchange in Warragul’s central business district.

“They’ll keep pursuing it, but it’s about whether Warragul (closes) and that could go on for five years,” Mr Evenden said.

The pre-feasibility report acknowledged that despite Warragul’s older facilities, the exchange had experienced solid throughput and a dedicated agent base.

“It is unclear whether development of a new facility is a cost effective alternative compared to a potential upgrade of the existing Baw Baw Livestock Exchange facilities at Warragul,” the report stated.

Victorian Livestock Exchange chief executive Wayne Osborne said council had made a prudent decision given considerable market competition in Gippsland. Mr Osborne said it was “appalling” council had to spend $10,000 to arrive at the conclusion.

“VLE used to own the saleyards in Traralgon and it wasn’t viable and as a result we had to close it. The council have picked up on that point.”

Baw Baw Livestock Exchange manager John Cochrene said council made the right decision and considered the $7 million price tag “well under” the cost of building a livestock facility.

Mr Cochrene referenced a flagship saleyard in Muchea, north of Perth, costing $55 million to construct as well as the $20 million saleyards in Barnawartha North, near Wodonga.

He said he had no intentions to close the Warragul saleyards, while acknowledging times were tough with more direct, online selling in the livestock industry.

“I think this is the right decision for everyone,” Mr Cochrene said.

The project proposal follows a $3.3 million refurbishment of the Gippsland Regional Livestock Exchange in Sale earlier this year.

The facility has been fit out with soft sawdust floors, elevated walkways and a roof to protect livestock from the sun.

Agent Ben Greenwood previously told The Express the new saleyards at Sale had the Latrobe Valley region “well covered”.

“I think they’ve missed the boat,” Mr Greenwood said.

Traralgon Saleyards were closed in 2008 by the Victorian Livestock Exchange after dwindling interest from stock agents.