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.

The challenge

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 may be transported to or from a feedlot as part of a supply chain.

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.

[Music plays, CSIRO logo and text appears: ‘Livestock Logistics Transport efficiency across northern Australia]

[Image appears of an Australian landscape and camera pans over cattle yards in the centre and then camera zooms in on the cattle]

Narrator:  Known as one of the most efficient producers of cattle in the world Australia boasts more livestock than people with some 28.5 million in cattle alone. 

[Text appears: ‘$12 billion industry’]

The value of this for Australia is $12 billion in off farm meat. 

[Camera zooms in on the legs of the cattle running down the yards and then zooms out to show the whole of the cattle running in the yards]

But the wide open spaces that make this country so suited to cattle production also present one of the biggest challenges to an efficient production system. 

[Image changes to show cars and a cattle truck driving along the highway]

[Image changes back to the cattle in the yards]

It’s the tyranny of distance.  In northern Australian more than half the cattle travel upwards of 1,000 km between production, processing and markets. 

[Text appears ‘Transport up to 40% of costs’]

This makes up to 40% of the final market price placing a sizable dent in profit and productivity across the entire value chain.

[Image changes to show a CSIRO researcher working on a computer and then the camera zooms in on the Dinmore Abattoir Livestock Logistic simulation page on the computer screen]

 Presented with this challenge CSIRO set out to evaluate the entire production system for livestock in northern Australia, home to 90% of the country’s live cattle export.

[Image changes to show a researcher writing on a whiteboard and then the camera zooms in on the formulas written on the whiteboard]

[Image changes to show a cattle feedlot and the camera pans over the feedlot]

To do this, researchers simulated more than 1.5 million vehicle movements between 50,000 enterprises over five years using some 88,000 point to point travel routes.

[Image changes to show a satellite image of the world globe and the camera zooms in on the transport networks in Northern Australia and text appears: ‘Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool, TraNSIT’]

This information was then modelled via a tool CSIRO developed know as the Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool or TraNSIT. 

[Text appears: ‘Infrastructure development’]

But it’s more than Google maps for beef.  It also helps to identify opportunities for infrastructure development.

[Image changes to show a large cattle feedlot and the camera pans over the landscape]

Currently most beef cattle in northern Australia need to be transported to the east coast for processing at various facilities or ports.

[Image changes to show a satellite image of the world globe and the camera zooms in on the colour coded transport networks in Northern Australia]

TRANSIT models these movements to show the high volume of traffic coming across the north as you can see here.  If you were to develop new processing or feed lot facilities in the region closer to the cattle TRANSIT can then model the change in transport flow.  As you can see now the intensity of transport on these roads has been eased. 

[Image changes to show a cattle truck and text appears: ‘Animal welfare, Road safety, Reduced emissions’]

The two hypothetical facilities in this scenario could save the industry millions in transport costs.  There are spin off benefits too including animal welfare, reduced driver fatigue and the impact on road safety and reduced carbon emissions. 

[Text appears: ‘Policy development’]

TRANSIT is also able to contribute to policy development. 

[Image changes to show a man pushing cattle up a ramp onto a truck]

Currently Queensland biosecurity requirements mean that trucks taking cattle to abattoirs need to be treated when going from tick infested zones into tick free zones.

[Image changes to show the satellite image of northern Queensland with red tick free and green tick prone zones.  Text appears: ‘Up to $2.3 million savings]

You can see these movements here.  TRANSIT has already shown that trucks transporting cattle from the tick prone zone highlighted in red will take longer journeys to stay within that zone to avoid the stoppage time associated with tick treatment.  If biosecurity policies didn’t apply to cattle being transported to abattoirs the TRANSIT model predicts that trucks would take more direct routes which could save up to $2.3 million in transport costs from South East Queensland alone.

[Image changes to show a dark brown cow and then images flash through of fawn coloured cattle and then crops]

While the focus for TRANSIT to date has been Northern Australia, it can be applied at a national scale and not just for cattle but other commodities like grains, fibre and horticulture, or general freight, transport, even infrastructure development. 

[Image changes to show a satellite image of the world globe and zooms in on Australia and then on the transport routes in Northern Australia.  Text appears: ‘Music: “Soaring Together” by Anima’]

In other words TRANSIT is a decision support tool modelling a better tomorrow.

[CSIRO Australia Logo appears on the screen with text: ‘Big ideas start here,’]

Livestock logistics :  We modelled livestock transport routes across northern Australia to help the industry save costs and become more efficient. This work has now been extended to the whole of Australia and other supply chains.

Our response

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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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