VORACIOUS demand from northern NSW and southern Queensland has chewed through virtually all old crop reserves of hay and has the fodder industry scratching its head as to where livestock producers will look to next for product.
Andrew Weidemann, Grain Producers Australia chairman and a hay producer in Victoria’s Wimmera, said it was a vastly different picture than six months ago.
“It was not that long ago we thought there was hay out there that would never sell, now there are calls virtually non-stop from people looking to get their hands on more fodder,” he said.
“I wouldn’t think there is a lot of hay left unsold anywhere, you may see a few hay trucks moving still but that is mostly with hay that had been pre-sold.”
“We’re at the stage now where baled straw is being trucked to northern NSW from the Wimmera, which is a massive cost for something that is just providing roughage.”
Mr Weidemann said there was the possibility of hay from Western Australia and South Australia, traditionally export oaten hay producers, being brought across to meet the feed gap.
However, Lyall Schulz, farmer at Maitland, on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, said hay reserves in his area were low.
“Everyone has been hunting for hay and the exporters have been chased up for product, but there is just not the hay produced in this area there once was,” Mr Schulz said.
“On the Yorke Peninsula there used to be a lot of oaten hay produced, but in recent years we have seen the lentil boom and much of that expansion came at the expense of hay hectares,” he said.
John McKew, chief executive of the Australia Fodder Industry Association, said buyers were forced to become increasingly less fussy about what product they received.
“The fodder supply situation is going downhill day by day and the buyers are by and large taking whatever they can get.”
In terms of making use of lower quality hay, Mr Weidemann said those with milling equipment could make better use of straw by combining it with a high protein feed source such as canola meal to make pellets.
Looking forward, Mr Weidemann said there was no certainty of hay supplies being substantially replenished this year.
Given the prospect of a poor spring raised by the Bureau of Meteorology, some farmers had floated the possibility of cutting cereal grain crops for hay, thus mitigating climate risk, which in theory would mean more hay on the market.
However, Mr Weidemann said more rain would be needed even to generate a hay crop.
“It’s very dry virtually everywhere on the east coast, we’re in what is supposed to be one of the better parts of the world and we would need a further 40-50mm before we’d be assured a hay crop.”
“With South Australia and WA looking that bit better maybe people will look there, but there’s a big cost in bringing it over.”
Mr McKew said at present livestock producers were happy to take on the added fodder costs, largely because of strong meat prices, but he said a drop in returns or a further hike in grain or hay prices could change this situation.