Caution urged on hay crops

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Cutting an oat crop originally intended for a grain harvest may not produce top-quality export hay.

Speaking at the Grains Industry Association of WA Oats Forum in Narrogin last week, Gilmac general manager Munro Patchett said dual-purpose oat crops generally did not produce top returns for oaten hay.

According to Mr Patchett, grain crops cut for hay will often have wider stems, more negative fibre and less sugars which made it less desirable for the export hay market.

"Farmers generally grow their oats as a grain crop, which means a low seeding rate with a relatively high fertiliser application rate, and the result is that there are not enough plants per square metre," he said

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"With the extra fertiliser application you get vigorous plant growth which is not what the market is looking for.

"Thick-stemmed plants make more negative fibre, while the market prefers thin-stemmed oaten hay with less of the negative fibre.

"Less fertiliser also means a stressed plant which is ideal for oaten hay."

Mr Patchett said oaten hay grown in a lower rainfall year often produced higher sugar analysis in the hay.

"I would like to see more hay grown in the north of the Wheatbelt, areas from Miling through to Wubin and inland from there," he said.

"Oaten hay is very suited there, where you don't have to worry about the dry finish."

Mr Patchett said the preferred varieties for oaten hay were Carrolup and Brusher.

"Williams has certainly not been performing well as an oaten hay variety," he said

"Bannister is better than Williams but not as good as Carrolup and Brusher.

"Kojonup is the variety that lends itself to a dual-purpose role; the grain is reasonable and there is good hay analysis."

Mr Patchett said growers would see a better result by harvesting oat crops for grain that were originally intended for hay production.

He said oaten hay pricing last season had been competitive with other grains.

"The oaten hay return to the farmer would have equalled any traditional grain crop - including wheat, canola, barley and oats last season," he said.

"Farmers received anywhere from $900 to $1100/ha for bottom grade oaten hay and up to $1300-1500/ha for top-quality hay.

Mr Patchett said demand in Japan, which was Australia's largest export market for oaten hay, was stable.

He said there was a 10 per cent increase in oaten hay exports from Australia last year, and there was unlikely to be any stock carry over into this season.

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