Fodder shortage looms

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Stock operators are pinning hopes on an early break to the season, as an impending fodder shortage looms.

Hay yields were slashed thanks to the drought and already high hay costs have started to soar further.

Ann Noakes, from Narrogin and Margaret River hay supplier Glenbrae, said while there was still hay around, buyers had started to balk at its price.

“Most of what is advertised is between $220 and $250 per tonne, plus GST, ” Ms Noakes said.

“Last year, it was between $140 and $150.

“It’s the earliest in the season we’ve seen prices like this, because everyone started feeding earlier.”

WA Lot Feeders Association president Ivan Rogers said both grain and hay prices had risen, adding an extra cost to rations.

On an 80-day program, the increase in hay prices alone could add to between $10 and $20 per ration.

But Mr Rogers said producers were happy to pay high feed prices if beef values rose in line with production costs.

“The store price of cattle has lifted, but we’re also seeing a lift in sell-out prices, ” Mr Rogers said. “There needed to be a significant lift and we have seen a 10–15 per cent increase on 2010 pricing.”

While several South West growers with irrigated pastures have been cashing in on the demand by haying summer crops, it will not be enough to meet the shortfall.

But it was not just domestic hay that was in short supply.

Australian Fodder Industry Association executive officer Colin Peace said yields in WA, which produces 40 per cent of the nation’s export hay, were decimated.

On the east coast, hay crops have either been washed away by floods or severely weather damaged, leaving South Australia — where there has been some minor weather damage — as the only state to record reasonable hay yields.

Mr Peace said the real challenge for farmers would begin in autumn.

“If there isn’t a substantial break in autumn, then hay prices will go up again, ” he said.

“WA, more than any other state, is relying on that (break).”

However, drought-breaking rains could be just around the corner, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

Meteorologists at BOM have marked the chances of wetter than normal conditions from February to April as between 60 and 75 per cent across much of the State.

Experts believe at least part of the reason behind the predicted rain-filled summer is the La Nina phenomenon, which has contributed to the eastern states’ devastating floods.

University of WA Ocean Institute researcher Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi said this year’s Leeuwin Current was more than three degrees warmer than last year, with the La Nina one of the strongest ever recorded. “Water temperatures are higher than 31 degrees, which I have not seen in more than 20 years of researching WA’s coastal waters, ” he said.

Professor Pattiaratchi said in previous La Nina years, the south-west of WA has experienced above-average rainfall, an increased number of tropical cyclones and higher mean sea levels during winter.

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