Article – Annabelle Coppin: Tapping the potential of the Pilbara

27 March 2014
Melissa Aisthorpe
North Queensland Register

PHOTO: Outstanding young achiever Annabelle Coppin. (Nicolle Versteeg)

AMID all of the hand-wringing in agriculture today over its many challenges, Annabelle Coppin prefers to see those potential hurdles as opportunities.
Annabelle, a fifth generation West Australian pastoralist, is station manager and business partner in her family’s East Pilbara cattle operation, the 430,000-hectare Yarrie Station.
Its stunning, vast landscape means her private fixed wing and commercial rotary licence are among the essential tools needed to do the job.
And while her achievements to date would satisfy many people twice her age, Annabelle chooses to focus on the “to do” list ahead of her.
“I’ve got so many things I want to do, I don’t feel like I’ve done much at all,” the 29-year-old says.
Yarrie Station runs a 5000-head Droughtmaster breeding herd, supplying cattle predominantly for the live export market but also servicing a spot market domestically.
Middle Eastern countries are the main export market for their cattle, while Vietnam was a major driver for their heavier cattle last year and holds much potential.
Annabelle gained a unique insight into the Middle East market during her time working as an international livestock consultant in the region over a two-year period.
Annabelle’s passion for the cattle industry and livestock welfare and handling techniques, saw her awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2008 and travelling the world to observe trends in the live export trade.
She has also completed an International Specialised Skills Institute Fellowship, observing commercial working mobile abattoirs as well as livestock handling techniques derived from renowned industry experts, Temple Grandin and Bud Williams in the United States.
“I’ve tweaked a few areas, but I’m trying to get to a point where I can standardise our livestock handling techniques to prove scientifically that what we do is professional,” Annabelle said.
“We’ve started that in our weaner handling program where we now have set routines, so all the crew know exactly how we handle them and are trained in those steps.
“We need benchmarks, and our industry doesn’t have it at the moment, but it needs to be industry-friendly and industry-driven – I want to be writing it, not the RSPCA.”
Improving efficiencies and profitability in the northern rangelands, and strengthening supply chains are among Annabelle’s other key goals.
“We’ve got a huge amount of potential to strengthen our supply chain, instead of selling on a spot market all the time.
“That would be a big breakthrough for this area, and that would include having more specific supply chains into the live export industry and stronger relationships with the importers as well as more consistent supply and demand.
“Ideally, I’d like to see a third of our livestock going to the live trade and into supply chains where I know exactly where they’re going and what the importer wants.
“Producers are still very disconnected to their end user in the live trade, so I’d love to see that become more official.”
Annabelle believes there’s huge potential to sell a rangelands beef product to a niche market, and would like to see another third of their cattle supplying such a market, and the remaining third continuing to fill a spot in the domestic market.
“From what I learnt on my Nuffield Scholarship, the WA rangelands and northern Australia as a whole, has got some of the greatest potential for agriculture in the world,” Annabelle said.
“The cool thing about the Pilbara is we’ve got massive infrastructure here from mining. I think there’s huge potential there to lift our export gain directly from the Pilbara, rather than sending the product south all the time.
“A lot of people in agriculture criticise the mining industry, but I’m actually going the other way and saying no, there’s an opportunity here because mining is putting huge amounts of capital around us for railway lines and power lines and they have the connections to Asia we need.
“And I’m not just referring to the live export trade, but agricultural produce generally going through the north.
“Irrigation in the Pilbara didn’t exist in 2008, but it’s happening now.”
For Annabelle, improving efficiencies is also inextricably linked to technology.
“There are a huge amount of efficiencies we can improve in our own business and I think technology in the rangelands can’t come quick enough to really break down the distance barrier.
“I’m quite passionate about measuring everything, because you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
“We try to use a lot of on-the-go tools like tablets, so you’re not sitting in the office all day. It’s something we’re working on.”
On a local level, building a more vibrant community in the isolated Pilbara region is another work in progress.
Annabelle is involved in the local Landcare group, the DeGrey Land Conservation District Committee, and has helped establish a producer group known as the DeGrey Catchment Development Group.
“It’s in very early stages but we’re trying to push that to get some community back for a start and get this catchment working as a group, like it used to, even if it’s through a field day or coming in and playing a game of tennis together,” she said.
“Particularly in the Pilbara, we’re very spread out, very isolated, and we live in our own little world, so it’s more of an effort to be a community up here.”
Annabelle is also a recent graduate of the Rabobank Executive Development program, a Western Australian Finalist for Young Australian of the Year, and the 2008 North Australian Beef Research Council Young Achiever.
Courtesy of the North Queensland Register