Once home to an abundant and diverse ecosystem of native plants, fish, birds and wildlife, Top End floodplains are being devastated as feral buffalo trample native vegetation, cause soil erosion and compaction, and spread invasive weeds, such as mimosa.
Freshwater floodplains are being turned to salt, paperbark forests and magpie geese nests are being destroyed, and iconic river systems are being impacted.
The most viable option available to mitigate the impact of this invasive species is costly, dangerous, and wasteful – aerial shooting from taxpayer-funded helicopters, which results in hundreds of carcasses of valuable protein left to waste.
As global conversations around food security continue to challenge world leaders, Australian Cattle Enterprises (ACE) is offering a solution that not only provides a quality, low-cost source of protein to the world, but also enables a far more sustainable option for feral buffalo management across Northern Australia.
Over the past 12 months, ACE has exported more than 13,200 buffalo to trading partners in South-East Asia, and in doing so, connecting Traditional Owners and producers in the Northern Territory to international markets eager to receive this quality protein offering.
ACE Managing Director Patrick Underwood firmly believes that this is a win-win solution to the sustainable environmental management of the NT’s pristine floodplains, as well as supporting and benefiting all the stakeholders in this vital supply chain.
“We are helping to feed communities and create employment and training opportunities, on traditionallyowned lands and in communities of the Northern Territory, as well as in developing countries. We believe we can make a genuine, positive difference through our importing partners.”
Having access to more markets than any other live cattle exporter in the country, ACE has established an extensive network of global customers and delivered 137,065 cattle and buffalo to countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, Philippines, West and East Malaysia, and Thailand.
Impressive, especially when you consider the Darwin-based exporter opened its doors less than three years ago, with its first shipment in May 2020.
Although ACE may be one of Australia’s newest exporters to enter the highly-regulated and competitive industry, the company is owned by everyone who works there, and the management team includes some of the cattle and export industry’s most experienced and well-known names.
ACE is led from the front by managing director Patrick Underwood, a stalwart of both the north Australian pastoral and beef cattle export industries, and a third-generation Territory pastoralist, born into the industry on the edge of the Tanami Desert and forged by the fires of the three Bs of beef production – Brahmans, BTEC and boats:
Brahmans, which started being infused across shorthorn herds in the sixties and seventies. BTEC, which rapidly expanded the growth of infrastructure and property development. Under the BTEC program, if cattle and buffalo weren’t presented in yards for testing, they were shot with little compensation.
Boats, live export’s saviour of the north – boats offered a ready, reliable market for the feeder steers and heifers that couldn’t be grown out for domestic markets on northern properties with long dry seasons.
Managing the commercial and financial complexities of international trade for the ACE team is their chief financial officer Louis le Roux, who has more than 20 years of commercial and financial experience in the agriculture, logistics and infrastructure sectors.
Negotiating safe passage through the commercial aspects of each international shipment with the pressure of fast-approaching cattle and looming livestock vessels is a challenge Louis relishes and excels at.
Animal Welfare Manager Matt Reed is responsible for every animal on the ACE book – from delivery into quarantine in Australia, all the way through to time, date, and location of slaughter in the overseas market. Matt has more than 30 years’ experience in animal welfare research, project management, training and compliance for CSIRO, NSW DPI and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
About 40 percent of the company’s expenditure relates to implementing best practice animal welfare systems.
“At ACE, we believe that animal welfare is everyone’s responsibility. We operate under the highest standards of animal welfare and invest a great deal of time and money to ensure the best control and traceability systems are in place to meet and exceed Australia’s rigorous regulatory requirements for livestock exports.
“Best practice equals best welfare and best economic return. It’s a no-brainer that happy animals are healthy animals, and we are committed to doing, and being, the best.”
ACE’s operations manager Hamish Shannon manages the complex logistics of shipping live cattle from Northern Australia into South-East Asia, and the associated government compliance and regulations of the industry. Raised on a cattle property in NSW, Hamish started jackarooing on Newcastle Waters in 2001 and the Territory has been in his blood ever since.
“Managing the unpredictability of live cattle and weather, and always changing vessel movements is what Hamish does exceptionally well and with a calm competence, that comes from the experience of having exported more than one million head of Australian cattle,” says Mr Underwood.
“It also makes him one of the most respected operators in the industry.”
Last into the fold is Dr Charles Vaughan. The young sole trading cattle veterinarian has more than 10 years’ experience working in the agricultural sector across dairy, grains, cotton, land development, sheep and cattle operations, both in Australia and Canada.
The Zanda McDonald Award finalist is a passionate leader in ag and is happy to turn his hand to anything as long as it increases welfare, production, efficiencies and return.
The ACE team is made up of skilled, experienced and passionate entrepreneurs, not just livestock exporters. Living and breathing an industry is rare outside of agriculture and hard to explain but it seems all five of these champions of industry are on the clock 24/7, ensuring optimal outcomes for Australian livestock and the broader industry.
ACE was named the Emerging Exporter of the Year at the NT Chief Minister’s Export Awards in 2022. The company has successfully navigated through the global pandemic, record cattle and fuel prices, worldwide economic uncertainty and the biosecurity threats lingering on our doorstep.
ACE has quickly become a dynamic player in the export industry and has now firmly entrenched its operations across the Northern Territory’s floodplains, backgrounding cattle along the Mary River and exporting buffalo caught across Top End floodplains.
“Locally, we are working with producers and Traditional Owners to mitigate the impact of feral buffalo, at the same time supporting the livelihoods of producers and providing revenue streams for Indigenous communities,” says Mr Underwood.
“We are also working closely with key trade partners in South-East Asia to act as a first line of defence and detection against infectious diseases staying out of Australia.
“ACE is passionate about cattle and its vital role in providing food, creating employment and empowering communities, both in Australia and with our trading partners.
“There is no more noble profession than feeding the world, and distilled back down to first principles, that is wholly and solely what we do.”