Agents and council lock horns over fees

ABOVE: An auction in action at the NRLX in Casino. Photo: Susanna Freymark

STORY by Susanna Freymark

Cattle agents are upset about a new fee on stud sales at the Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange in Casino.

Casino Auctioneers Association president Andrew Summerville is not happy with the council’s proposed 0.3% fee on stud sales.

Each agency pays a flat business fee of $10,500 per year to use the saleyards.

They also pay $1 per head on commercial cattle sold.

“With 120,000 cattle through NRLX a year that is $120,000 from all agents,” Mr Summerville said.

At the Richmond Valley Council meeting on Tuesday, June 28, councillors voted unanimously to charge agents the 0.3% fee for stud sales instead of the $2.20 they are currently charged.

There are only two stud sales a year and the larger one is the All Breeds Sale.

Mr Summerville said agents do well in good years and out of the past six years, two of them have been good.

“Our fear is that this 0.3% fee will be applied to other sales,” he said.

NRLX operations manager Brad Willis said the council-owned NRLX was run as a business.

“I think a percentage of gross sales is the best future course for agent fees for use of the facility,” Mr Willis said.

“When times are good, we recover more money. When times are bad, our fees are cheap.”

Other fees at the saleyards are fixed so any possible change to make other fees percentage based can’t happen until June next year.

Mr Willis said a company called Regional Livestock Agents owned nine saleyards elsewhere on the eastern seaboard and each of them operated on a percentage.

Mr Summerville said in his 15 years as an agent, rates had not changed.

Keeping fees sustainable was most important and agents were likely to pass on any fee increases to producers, he said.

“Vendors do not need any more charges,” Mr Summerville said.

Mr Willis said the 0.3% stud sale fee was an agent fee.

“It would be very disheartening to see this on-charged (to farmers). The vendor is paying their fair charge,” he said.

The agents though are making a lot of money at sales and only paying a small amount to use the saleyards which the council runs as a business for the community, Mr Willis said.

There was $1.1 million of livestock sold at the All Breeds Sale.

The agents charged a commission of 5% of the sale.

“Five agents earned $55,000 and paid $288 to use the facility on that day,” Mr Willis said.

“If you ask any small business in Casino to use their premises for $288 and you make $55,000, how does that sound to you? It doesn’t pass the pub test.”

Cattle farmer Bruce Lyle is president of the committee that runs the All Breeds sale.

“Any excess funds (from the sale), we tip into the community,” Mr Lyle said.

Last time the sale delivered $1000 to each of three community organisations – Windara, Casino VRA and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

“If we have to pay $3000 into council fees, it would be an end of our donation to the community.”

There had already been increases in yard dues for bulls and for the use of StockLive (for online cattle sales), and to find another 0.3% fee on top of that was too much, he said.

Mr Willis said it was “exceptionally disappointing to feel that they (agents) would not be able to donate to the community from the All Breeds sale.”

Council provides staff and saleyard preparation for that sale and makes a loss of about $2800.

Councillor Robert Hayes said it was important the community continued to receive a return on its investment in the NRLX upgrade.

The council has invested $15 million into the upgrade.

In 2012, the Casino saleyards were a topic of debate, Mr Hayes said.

“The figures showed a deficit and by memory, the agents’ usage fee was fixed, and their business license fee had not increased for a long period.”

Since 2012 council has put in place a financial plan and management system that has allowed for steady increases, as well as putting the complex in a financial position to be able to carry out the recent upgrades, Mr Hayes said.

“Council’s revenue policies over this time have had increases across all its income streams which has led council to be in the financial position it is in today.”

Mr Hayes said the NRLX needed to be run as a business into the future so the facility could attract other selling agents and related businesses to the facility.

The letter from the Casino Auctioneers Association indicates to me that they are only concerned with protecting their exclusive, historical use of the complex, Mr Hayes said.

Mr Hayes was adamant, “This complex is now promoted as a regional facility, the sooner we progress to a percentage of the turnover as the agents’ usage fee and stand up to the agents to prevent them from passing the fees that they are responsible for on to the vendor, the better off the broader community of the Northern Rivers will be.”

The NRLX turned over more than $200 million in the 2021-2022 financial year, a staggering $57 million increase from $143 million in the previous year.

Mr Willis said breaking the $200 million mark was a remarkable result for the facility and the agriculture community of the Richmond Valley.

End of a sale at the NRLX. Photo: Susanna Freymark

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