The farm feed crisis from three angles
The cost of feeding farm animals in the current drought is only one aspect of what’s facing our struggling farmers. Supply is another issue as is state of mind. Jonathan Roe reports -
Fourteen months feeding and counting
It has now been 14 months since Peter Hickey began feeding stock on his 1240 hectare property “Bellandre Park” north of Molong.
Mr. Hickey and his wife Marilyn bought “Bellandre Park” nearly 25 years ago and they have never seen conditions as bad as they are today. For the first time ever they ran out of water in their household tank and have had to pump from rainwater tanks at their shearing shed.
“The house tank’s 20,000 gallons and it’s only Maralyn and I, so that's how long it's been since we've had good rain,” said Mr. Hickey.
Since they began feeding in June last year, Mr. Hickey said they have spent $110,000 on feeding their 2100 merino sheep and 120 cows. And that figure is far less than what some have had to spend as they were fortunate to have had a lot of their own grain in storage.
“I think we had nearly 160 tonne of grain and were feeding that out quite liberally because we didn't think it would last so long and that's why we've kept so many sheep on,” said Mr. Hickey.
When he first began buying in cottonseed the cost was $230 a tonne, today Mr. Hickey said he is paying nearly doubly that. Pellets from Manildra Mills are also over $400 a tonne and getting harder to source.
“The crunch now, at the end of this month, I might end up selling half the sheep off because the sheep pellets are getting harder to get from the mills because the demand is so high,” he said.
“So that is a real concern for me. I'm just worrying about running out of feed, of being able to buy it.”
Mr. Hickey ran out of hay on “Bellandre Park in March and has since bought in five truck loads with another arriving next week.
The first load, Mr. Hickey was able to source from Forbes, the next from Jerilderie, but now he has had to go as far as Bendigo in Victoria to buy anything.
“The transport is costing more than what the hay has been costing. You buy hay for $10,000 and it is $5,000 in freight,” he said.
The only upside to this particular drought for Mr. Hickey and his neighbours is that the Bell River has kept flowing. A small mercy, but if there is no decent rain before Spring, Mr. Hickey will have to sell more stock and may have an even harder decision to make.
“I might even retire. I’m 67 at the end of the year and it has crossed my mind lately,” he said.
“For the first time, it is probably getting to me mentally, whereas nothing has ever worried me about living on farm before, but some days I think maybe it isn't worth it.”
Hay prices up 119 per cent in the Central West
Hay prices in Central West NSW have increased by 119 per cent since this time last year, according to figures from Dairy Australia.
Cereal Hay is now selling for around $400 a tonne, up from $180 at the same time last year.
The Bega Valley has seen similar price rises of 114 per cent over the past year, while the cost of hay in Darling Downs, North Coast NSW and the Atherton Tablelands has risen by about 30 per cent.
Dry seasonal conditions in much of Australia, are placing pressure on dairy farmers nationwide, said Dairy Australia Managing Director, Dr David Nation, and the high demand for fodder in some regions is causing a feed shortage across the east coast of Australia.
“We recognise that a feed shortage is the last thing the industry needs after a difficult few years, but we feel confident in the strength of the dairy community, and the ability to draw on our experience in managing feed shortages and challenging operating environments,” Dr Nation said.
He urged dairy farmers to take advantage of the resources available to them through Dairy Australia’s Regional Development Programs (RDPs).
“To navigate these tough times, I encourage farmers to reach out to the support around them, contact their RDP and tap into resources available in their region.”
Mills working overtime to meet demand
Darren Faddy, branch manager at Furney's Stockfeeds Orange said they are struggling to keep up with demand from farmers desperate for stockfeed.
Orders that once could be filled and shipped within a week can now take between four and six weeks to get to a customer, he said
“That time frame has blown out due to quantities that are being produced, so I know our mill alone, they have hundreds of thousands of kilos they've got to make at any one time - they can't keep up... the mills are running 24 hours a day at the moment and they are still struggling to keep up. As things get worse and worse they are just getting further behind,” said Mr. Faddy.
“I've got a board on the wall here, which is full of people's names and if somebody else comes in, as the drought drags on prices have continued to rise as supplies become scarce, he said.
“There are a few products we use that have stopped being made; you can't buy bran any more and pollard is hard to find,” said Mr. Faddy.
“It doesn't matter who you go to, every supplier in the business, they are all putting pricing up. It is just a carry on effect.”