Stephen Loane OAM: our council GM's passion for livestock industry honoured on Australia Day

NEWEST OAM: Steve Loane has been recognised in the Australia Day honours list for his service to the livestock industry and to local government. Picture: THE LAND
NEWEST OAM: Steve Loane has been recognised in the Australia Day honours list for his service to the livestock industry and to local government. Picture: THE LAND

A passion to educate everyone through the livestock chain of supply to ensure humane treatment of animals has seen Stephen Loane named an OAM in the Australia Day honours list.

Mr Loane has a high local profile as Forbes Shire Council's general manager and is also recognised for his service to local government, but many of us might not be as aware of his long-time work in the saleyards industry.

It's been a life-long passion, and Mr Loane this week expressed his thanks to the person who nominated him for the honour.

"I've been very humbled by it," he reflected.

"I don't know that I've done anything extraordinary," he added, but said he was proud to have served the industry in a volunteer capacity.

Mr Loane was the inaugural chair of the Australian Livestock Markets Association from 2010, after serving on the earlier Saleyards Operators Association from 2003, and remains a board member and life member.

He's also served on the Australian Sahiwal Breed Society, the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association; the Working Kelpie Association and the Australian Stockhorse Association.

From showing cattle at Sydney Royal to working as an agent in the lower Hunter Valley, Mr Loane has always been involved in the cattle industry, but he took a significant step up in 2003 after the first televised reports on live exports shocked him and his colleagues.

It's now nearly 20 years since the footage of distressed cattle in an international facility went to air, but Mr Loane has not forgotten its impact.

"We sat down and looked at it as an industry, what we could do about it," he said.

"We decided the best thing to do was to educate the sector: a lot of people were unskilled working in saleyards. So we felt that we needed to empower them with knowledge.

"In conjunction with TOCAL agricultural college ... we designed courses where we could actually have a certificate 3 in accredited livestock carers."

The group's aim was to have at least one person who had completed the course in every saleyards in Australia.

They would be able to take charge if there was an animal in distress; and could oversee the education of everyone in the supply chain: the producers, the agents, the transporters. They've developed other courses, including effective euthanasia, since then.

Mr Loane is adamant that animals should have the best possible journey - and that it only makes good sense for everyone.

"We've got a bit of a saying in the livestock game that healthy animals are wealthy animals - they're worth money if they're in good nick," Mr Loane said.

The industry has stepped up, he says, both with international scrutiny and at a domestic level: ALMA has also been heavily involved in the development of the principles for Meat and Livestock Australia's "fit to load" guidelines.

"The recognition in industry at all levels has been a tremendous support," he said.

"We started with this program as a voice in the wilderness and people have come along ... for whoever is my peer who has nominated me for this (OAM) I thank them in the most humble way."

Mr Loane transitioned into local government with a role in Naracoorte, South Australia, after selling his livestock agency in Dungog. He then served as general manager of the Warrumbungle Shire Council before coming to Forbes late 2017.

"My interest in Forbes goes back a long way," he said.

"The person that I've known longest happens to be Alister Lockhart: I was the inaugural chair of the Australian Livestock Markets Association - ALMA - and Alister was a board member."

He had also worked with the late Ron Penny, former mayor, through the Saleyards Association.

The role in Forbes, home to the second-largest sheep-selling centre in the world, was a "gift".

The Central West Livestock Exchange sees the sale of some 1.2 million sheep a year; and 60,000 to 80,000 cattle.

Its $4million expansion positions us well for the future as the national herds recover from three years of drought.

"The slaughter rates for female breeding stock were unprecedented and to re-build the herd is going to take a long time," Mr Loane said.

"One of my favourite quotes is that a heifer born today is three years before she's in production. Even if you were to join cows to a bull hoping to build your herd, it's probably a four-year program."

Forbes was being impacted by drought when Mr Loane moved here in late 2017; and how the community has weathered the seasons since has certainly made an impression on him.

Mr Loane had the honour during the drought of sitting at the table of the Prime Minister's Drought Summit and sharing the saleyards perspective.

The price gouging, particularly for poor quality feed, was a major issue and he says he'll continue to lobby for a national fodder bank to prevent the same occurring in future.

"We should have plenty of fodder on store in a rotation situation ... no longer than five years old," he explained.

"So that when the inevitable happens we can keep our breeding stock viable so our numbers don't reduce: so we can respond and bounce back, be able to fill our national orders, make sure our national herds of both cattle and sheep especially stay up where they should."

Locally, it was an honour to have been able to secure grant funding and lead the farm to trade program providing work for farmers impacted by drought; to see a record harvest written off by flooding was devastating.

Mr Loane has been impressed by the community's responsiveness, and the ability of business and industry to pivot.

"Even when Forbes has a fundraiser, it's extraordinary to me the amount of generosity that comes from this town and the wonderful fundraising effort that they put forward," he said.

So what's next? In the livestock industry, he acknowledges there will always be more to do as new players enter the industry.

On a personal level, he's purchased a Cessna aeroplane - as well as a block of land where he's planning to build a hangar - and is learning to fly with local Stuart Robb.

Stephen is married to Lisa and they have raised four children.