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The challenge

Transporting livestock in northern Australia

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

Cattle from the Northern Territory 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.

For several months each year, floods and seasonal road closures can 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,’]

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.

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Our response

Logistics tool to reduce costs

In 2015 we applied our Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT) to the Australian Government's $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Program.

The program was focused on identifying roads for upgrades that would improve the Northern Australia cattle supply chains. It used TraNSIT modelling and the beef community provided valuable assistance for the identification of investment priorities.

TraNSIT provided the most comprehensive mapping and optimisation of the cattle supply chain ever undertaken across Australia. It accounted for 20 million cattle transport movements in a given year between over 100,000 enterprises.

Using the computer logistics tool, our researchers analysed the benefits of the proposed improvements to Northern Australia Beef roads, identified those with the highest benefits for the beef industry and provided estimates of reductions in transport costs. According to the tool, flow on benefits for truck drivers and cattle included reduced travel distances and time, potential savings on fuel costs and a reduction on wear and tear on vehicles.

The results

Better beef industry logistics in the north

TraNSIT analysed various possible infrastructure projects for the beef industry.

TraNSIT originally looked at benefits from upgrading large segments of road between Clermont to Alpha.

The first project to get underway under the $100 million Beef Roads program was the sealing of 16.9 kilometres of the Clermont to Alpha Road in Central Queensland in 2018.

The $8.017 million works aimed to improve road safety and access for oversize vehicles while reducing freight and maintenance costs.

A number of cattle properties are situated in this area and the road is a popular cattle route to saleyards, feedlots and abattoirs

Our original analysis estimated, an overall upgrade of large sections of this rough road would reduce transport costs of more than $260,000 per year or $2.49 per head.

Map showing the Buntine Highway and sections considered for upgrade.

Other "Beef Roads" to be analysed by TraNSIT included upgrading the entire Buntine Highway and Duncan Road from the Victoria Highway to Halls Creek in the Northern Territory.

A popular cattle route to Darwin, we estimated, if entirely upgraded, this current rough road would reduce transport costs by $183,584 per year or $5.39 per head. In this case, the upgrade of the Buntine Highway would also reduce cattle truck movements along the Great Northern Highway-the only sealed road link between the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

Since our analysis, the Australian Government has committed $32 million towards a $40 million upgrade for this road in partnership with the Northern Territory Government who has contributed $8 million.

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