Sara Pearce and Annabelle Coppin on Yarrie Station. Annabelle can also fly a helicopter.
Sara Pearce and Annabelle Coppin on Yarrie Station. Annabelle can also fly a helicopter. John Stapels

She's in her early 30s and owns a 250,000 ha station

FEMALE, early 30s and the owner/manager of an outback station.

These are not the usual adjectives you think of when describing those who run large outback properties, but it's one that sums up Annabelle Coppin perfectly.

Aged just 31, the smart business woman has strongly secured her foothold in the northern beef industry, buying her parents' Yarrie Station in July last year.

The 250,000ha Pilbara property, which is situated about 250km outside of Port Hedland in Western Australia, runs about 2500 head of breeders and employs about six people during the mustering season.

The Rural Weekly caught up with Annabelle to talk about the challenges a new station owner faces during their first year of business and the vital changes she would like to see occur in the live-export industry.

Annabelle's ownership of Yarrie Station has been timed with two seasons of below-average rainfall.

"We haven't had a huge amount of summer rain yet. So that has put the pressure on a bit," she said.

"You just have to look at changing your whole operation for the year, we are selling a lot of cows, we are weaning very hard, we have to do the musters very slowly because the cattle don't have the condition. Everything is a lot slower, so it's more expensive."

However, despite only receiving 50mm of rain this year, she shrugged off any concerns the dry weather would be a major hurdle for her to overcome.

It was just part and parcel of managing a property in the Pilbara.

"It's just a fact of life out here," she said.

"I lease a property in the south that gets more reliable rain and has more intensive pastures.

"We are able to move a lot of stock down there. That's one of the reasons we have that property down there, to relieve us in dry times."

After talking to Annabelle for a few minutes on the phone it becomes obvious that she is a measured and well-educated individual.

She seems like the kind of person who would always have a back-up plan.

The main reason she chose to invest whole-heartedly into grazing land was because she believes there is such a strong future for the beef industry.

In 2008 she received the Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship and spent 12 months overseas learning about the live-export industry.

"I saw a lot of areas in the live export industry where I think practices on Australian soil are behind," she said.

Animal rights groups have a strong presence and, at the moment, their spotlight was pointed firmly towards live trade, she said.

Annabelle believes farmers have to be proactive when dealing with these types of concerns.

"We need to try and start being on the front foot in the way we handle cattle, our animal husbandry and our livestock systems," she said.

"Because it will only be a matter of time before there is pressure on the farm gate to improve our professional approach, or to prove that we do have these systems in place."

Annabelle also believes there is too much of a disconnect between the producers and importers.

"A lot of people, and this is including myself now, just put cattle on the truck. But what I would like to see is an enhanced feedback system along the supply chain," she said.

"I don't find out if my cattle went well or if they didn't go well.

"Long-term relationships with our exporters are often challenging, and usually long-term relationships with our importers are non-existent - I think that needs to change if we want a long-term outlook in this industry."

This particular area of improvement is something Annabelle is passionate about.

"I think we need supply-chain systems where there is actual official feedback given and we create alliances where we are loyal and committed to each other with a long-term supply plan ," she said.

"ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System) and the new LGAP (Livestock Global Assurance System) are great programs to tack onto, we just need tweak it a bit further at each end of the supply chain.

"Doing that, and with some commitment from all parties, things could change rapidly.

"We have to have electronic ID on our cattle when they leave here, so why not use it to mould a more robust value chain?"

Annabelle would like to see more producers travelling with their cattle on ships and visiting feedlots and abattoirs.

"But it needs to be more than just visiting, it needs to link into a stronger alliance between the producer, exporter and importer.

Within the next ten years, she believes it's possible for there to be strong and transparent relationships between producers, exporters and importers.

"If we don't like what an importer is doing to our cattle, we can just stop supplying to them," she said.

"And, if the importer doesn't like what we are doing to our cattle, (as) sometimes the importers handle the cattle better than the Australian producer, then they don't have to buy our cattle either.

"There will be pressure on all of us to do the right thing."

For her, the future is bright. She considers managing a station the dream job.

"The great thing about my work is that it's such a versatile, variable job. One minute you are strategic planning for your business and doing your BAS, then the next you are out driving a grader or working cattle," she said.

"And I am never on my own. I couldn't do this on my own. The long-term committed people in my team also contribute greatly to keeping the place going forward."

She described the challenges she faced being a young woman working in the male-dominated beef industry as a blessing not a curse.

Why? Because as a young woman quite often you have to put twice the effort in to prove yourself. "To be honest that is not a bad thing, it makes you become better than other people," she said.

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