With most of the country’s east suffering through drought, or near-drought conditions, Fraser Partners’ Benn Fraser has been taking about 10 phone calls a day, from producers desperate to source hay to feed their livestock.
But the hay producer, based at Bo Peep, just west of Ballarat, who has another property in the Mallee at Woomelang, has almost reached capacity, having sold 90 per cent of the 15,000 tonnes worth of hay he produces each year.
Mr Fraser, who is a fifth generation farmer and hay transporter, said he’s sold hay into regions he’s never sold before.
“We normally sell to repeat clients in Gippsland and South-West Victoria every year, from Warrnambool to Sale, but this year we’ve sent hay and straw as far as Cobar, NSW, and Toowoomba, Qld,” Mr Fraser said.
He said the 10pc he has remaining will be kept as a drought reserve, a technique he has employed over the past few years.
“We always keep a drought reserve as you don’t know what the season’s going to do,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep enough for our own cattle and sheep operation, as there’s no point producing it yourself and then having to buy it elsewhere.”
He said this has unfortunately meant he has had to leave producers hanging.
“It’s got to a point where the season hasn’t gone as everyone had hoped, so people just need more and more hay. I’m getting at least 10 enquiries a day, from existing clients and other people, about purchasing hay,” he said.
“We’ll have to wait and see what the season does, we generally have enough reserves, but the whole eastern seaboard is chasing hay, so it’s going to be hard.”
Mr Fraser had also donated hay to victims of the St Patrick’s Day fires in March in the South-West, which also put a dint in his reserves.
“We had several of our own clients that got burned out, so we did what we could do support them,” he said.
He’s tried to keep his prices reasonable, but with increased demand has come increased prices, and he didn’t want his to be unattainable for clients.
“You’ve got to be fair. We want our clients to come back as repeat buyers next year, so you’ve got to be good to them,” he said.
“We’ve had to follow the prices, but have tried to hold our own back as much as we’re able to.”
The operation has been in the Fraser family since 1854 and Mr Fraser, who farms with his brother Adam and parents Claire and John, said they are generally busy all year round, but this year has been one of their busiest.
“Everyone in the district, and everyone in the hay industry is busy, we’ve been flat out,” he said.