Northern Australia’s beef herd comprises 12.5 million cattle and makes up 90 per cent of Australia’s live cattle exports. CSIRO has developed a series of tools to help improve the efficiency of the transport that keeps this industry moving.
Transporting livestock in northern Australia
Moving northern Australia’s cattle from farm to market can involve the longest land transport distances of any Australian commodity.
Cattle from the Northern Territory, for example, travel an average of close to 1000 km and sometimes as much as 2500 km to east coast abattoirs.
Long travel distances raise costs and risks to production. Land transport costs comprise up to 35 per cent of the market price of livestock.
Floods and seasonal road closures can, for months of each year, prevent stock reaching ports or abattoirs.
This reduces the efficiency of use of these key infrastructure assets, challenging their economic viability and reducing industry profitability and resilience.
New tools to save costs
A two-year research project has led to the development of a set of decision support tools for livestock producers and governments that helps identify the least cost pathway for the transport of livestock across northern Australia.
The tools incorporate data from over 50,000 properties, 88,000 origin to destination combinations, and over 1.5 million recorded vehicle movements on primary, secondary and other roads mapped for half of Australia’s land area.
They take into account truck configuration, livestock weight and regulatory and other constraints such as changing road conditions.
Together, they comprise the most comprehensive mapping and analysis of northern transport routes and beef industry infrastructure ever undertaken.
The tools comprise three models:
- Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TRANSIT) tests the logistics benefits of large scale actions and investments such as road upgrades, new abattoirs, and removal of tick clearing requirements
- Transport Operations Simulator enables analysis of small to medium scale actions and investments that affect the day-to-day (real time) logistical efficiency of supplying cattle to abattoirs, port catchments and feedlots
- Beef Infrastructure Location Optimiser identifies the optimal scale and location of investments such as spelling yards or finishing properties to optimise freight transhipments.
The models have been developed, and use of the tools is open to livestock carriers and other enterprises by contacting CSIRO.
They can flexibly investigate the widest range of scenarios and options posed by users.
To date, industry has used them to identify and evaluate six options for improving efficiency of beef industry logistics in the north:
- a type two road train corridor between Clermont and Roma, with abolished tick clearing requirements for cattle transported to the abattoirs
- upgrade of some minor roads in the Northern Territory to improve accessibility early in the wet season
- location of a new spelling yard in Northern Territory and Western Australia, if there are changes to animal welfare or driver fatigue guidelines
- implications to road traffic for increasing or reducing the utilisation of rail transport for moving cattle in Queensland
- transport implications of a new abattoir and mosaic irrigation in the Kimberley region
- transport cost benefits and reduced greenhouse gas emissions of the new AACo abattoir south of Darwin.
By this means, the tools have identified opportunities for reducing recurrent transport costs by over $10 million per year.
A much larger cache of savings will emanate from further use of the tools described.
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