Twelve months on, WA cattle producers and exporters are still reeling from the effects of the Federal Government's snap decision to ban live exports to Indonesia.

A year ago, ABC's Four Corners broadcast disturbing footage of Australian cattle being treated horrifically in Indonesian abattoirs, prompting the ban. A year on, the $330 million Australian live cattle industry is a vastly different landscape, with producers and exporters losing millions of dollars.

As another season of mustering and exporting begins, the financial toll of the month-long ban and subsequent changes to trade via the new Export Supply Chain Assurance System is only just being felt across WA. Touted as a move towards greater self-sufficiency, Indonesia has slashed its import quota for Australian live cattle from 500,000 head last year to 280,000 in 2012 and an air of uncertainty hangs over the industry.

Two claims have been lodged with the Federal Government involving more than 20 claimants in a multimillion-dollar class action to receive compensation for the havoc wreaked by the suspension of trade last year.

South East Asian Livestock Services manager Dean Ryan has sustained losses close to $3 million and estimated it would take him more than a decade to make back what last year's disruption cost.

After a year of travelling back and forth to Indonesia and northern Australia to deal with the fallout, the Bullsbrook father of two said he was rebuilding "from scratch" and believed the new welfare system had enhanced treatment of Australian cattle tenfold.

"We've been so pro-active to keep our markets open and there's been no recognition of what the industry has actually done to improve and how quickly they reacted to reports of mistreatment," Mr Ryan said.

He feared the industry was facing a backlash from countries which did not prioritise animal welfare and now found it too hard to deal with Australia.

"Our greatest competitor to any market in the world now is not price, it's not product, it's not relationship . . . it's compliance. The livestock trade hasn't slowed down, it's gotten bigger worldwide because there is a shortage of food," he said. "They're just sourcing their stock from other countries which have no regard for welfare. We've committed very strongly that we will not take our eye off the ball but we're going to have hiccups along the way and we just hope the public doesn't commit us to a life sentence for every hiccup."

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Rob Gillam said most producers were only now realising the severity of the impact on their businesses.

"If there's not a change in the quota numbers . . . then it's going to be very difficult because some people are quite obviously going to have cattle suitable for the Indonesian trade which they won't be able to get away," Mr Gillam said.

State Agriculture Minister Terry Redman said the new permit allocation system had compromised the free flow of cattle and prices had been affected, with reported returns down at least 15 to 20 per cent.

"Pastoralists continue to weigh up alternative marketing options in light of the new live export arrangements," Mr Redman said.

He said the State Government was exploring opportunities for the pastoral industry to diversify, including pastoral tenure reform.

The West Australian

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