An almost unprecedented surge in buying has seen a stockpile of 12 months worth of hay snapped up in the last three months, by producers desperate to feed in dry conditions.
Hay has been transported “as far and wide as it’s needed to go”, according to Australian Fodder Industry Association (AFIA) chief executive officer John McKew, mainly up to New South Wales and Queensland, where drought conditions are most prevalent.
Mr McKew said any hay currently seen sitting in hay sheds across the country is likely already transacted, and awaiting delivery, but this is a stark contrast to the situation three months ago.
“There was a lot of carryover stock after two very strong production seasons in 2016 and 2017, meaning there was a lot of hay and other fodder sitting in sheds, and some that couldn’t even fit in sheds,” Mr McKew said.
“But we’ve now reached the situation where everything has been sought, and demand is so strong that people are buying hay that might have been left out of the shed since 2016, where at least the top layer might be weather damaged.”
He said producers across the country dealing with dry conditions and working out how to feed livestock hit a tipping point at the same time.
“As producers began sourcing hay, there was plenty of it, but then lots of demand went into the system in a very tight period of time,” he said.
“Now most of that hay we had, where we thought we had an oversupply, is gone, and we’re in a completely different situation.”
Mr McKew said hay traders and transporters will be having issues transporting hay around the country, with buying and selling capacities reaching their maximum.
A South-West Victorian transporter said his company has been sourcing hay from wherever they could get it, mostly from the South-West and up into the Wimmera and Mallee.
The transporter said most of the hay has gone up into areas of NSW, Broken Hill, Goulburn and Mudgee, but also to Gippsland.
“We’ve been this busy before, but we’ve never seen the hay job turn this quickly before,” the transporter said.
Mr McKew said for anyone still looking for hay, decisions should be made as soon as possible.
“Where there might be supply, it’s a diminishing commodity at the moment, so if you know someone, or you know someone who knows someone, act quickly, because it won’t stay around for too much longer,” he said.
He said it is beginning to reach a point where people will have to start making other decisions to get through the dry conditions.
“If there’s no product available, demand will move to something else, like other substitute feed products,” he said.
“Depending on where they are, and whether or not they can secure feed to meet their requirements, some producers might start to cull, and so we might find that livestock markets are going to start getting really busy.”
He said freight costs are relatively reasonable at the moment, particularly with interstate government subsidies, but are always an added financial stress.
“We live in a big country, and if you’re going to be trucking hay from South-West Victoria to central NSW, there is a big cost there that you have to be mindful of, but most people buying hay are used to freighting it to their farm, so will have a good idea of the costs,” he said.
He said prices have been getting firmer, as supply lessens.
Frosted hay still sells
Miners Rest farmer Andrew Fraser never thought he would sell the more than 3000 round bales of hay made from a frosted wheat crop last season.
But because of the dry conditions, Mr Fraser has sold the lot and is looking for more.
He said that since the start of May, he has had two B-Doubles and a single, operating non-stop carting hay.
He has carted hay to places including Cohuna, Longwarry, Officer, Trafalgar, Warragul, Mirboo North, Sale, Stratford, Loch, Bass, Leongatha, and interstate to Orange, Bathurst, Moree, Dubbo and Lake Cargelligo, NSW.
He said the trip to Moree alone was nearly 1500 kilometres one way.
He is still getting phone calls from producers and agents chasing hay and is doing his best to source the hay from where ever he can find it.
“It’s surprising how many people want rolls and there is still hay sitting in sheds,” he said.
Gippsland farmers feeding
For over six months, East Gippsland farmer Peter Kramme has been feeding cattle and sheep on his Nicholson property.
Mr Kramme said he has spent over $50,000 on hay and $10,000 on pallets to get his stock through the drought.
With hay supply diminishing and prices going up, he said he will be relying on pallets instead.
“I’ve sold all my yearling calves, and just kept my breeders, but I don’t want to sell anymore, so I’ll feed until I go broke,” he said.
But he said recent rain has boosted confidence.
“To the average person, you wouldn’t think there’s been a drought because it’s green, but there’s no feed, it’s just green,” he said.
Only in the last three months has Darnhum farmer Nick Dilauro had to feed his herd hay, as things have become “bloody dry”.
Mr Dilauro’s own hay stockpiles have made this process easier, but he said he is getting close to running out.
To manage the amount he’s feeding, he monitors cattle as they’re eating.
“A lot of people just chuck the hay in the paddock and let the cattle eat it, but sometimes if it rains, the bottom will get wet, and they won’t eat it,” he said.
“I go up there in the morning or afternoon, depending on the weather, and I chuck a bit out in each of my four paddocks and watch the cows, and if one particular group has some leftover, then I’ll know to feed them less the next day.”
He said he’s also been very conscious of his stocking rate.
“I got caught a few years ago, and so I learned my lesson,” he said.
“If things get dry, I unload cattle, I don’t wait until the last minute.”
He said he’s been lucky to have his own hay, as it’s saved on the cost of freight and buying outright.
“I had some hay from last year, I cut a fair bit then, but this year wasn’t a good season for hay,” he said.
“I think by the end of this season, I’ll have used the majority of it.”