High-quality hay ‘more scarce than at any time in the past 20 years’ in eastern Australia | Agriculture

Australia is facing severe fodder shortage with high quality hay “more scarce now than at any time in the past 20 years,” according to a major hay exporter.

Flooding and heavy rain destroyed crops or disrupted harvesting of high quality hay and fodder products in the eastern states, and industry insiders say that shortage is likely to continue through 2023. Combined with labour shortages, it meant some farmers had to choose between harvesting higher value grain crops and cutting hay.

“Many growers totally abandoned hay-making, opting to plough hay crops in or switch to harvesting their grain crops,” a spokesperson for AEXCO, one of the countries largest hay exporters, told Guardian Australia.

“This pulled back the area cut for hay further to only 40-50% of the average in Victoria and South Australia.

“Many who did stick with hay were pummelled with over 200mm of rain after hay crops were cut. While hay paddocks have yielded well, the availability of high quality hay as a valued feed for animals is more scarce now than at any time in the past 20 years.”

Hay retailer Shane Ruyg from Farm Tender, an online platform for agricultural auctions, said it would take nearly 12 months for the industry to successfully reset. Ruyg said hay prices on his website had gone up by almost $100 a tonne.

However, Ruyg said he expected more hay would become available after summer as temperatures cooled and farmers finished up busy harvesting seasons. He called on farmers to be proactive and harvest hay before the dry season came.

“When you’ve got a lot of rain, that creates food,” Ruyg said. “I think people are just using what they’ve got out in the paddock, but as we head into the colder and dryer months I imagine we will start seeing more issues with [hay] shortages.”

Ruyg said it was difficult at this stage to gauge the severity of the shortage because it wasn’t yet known how much hay and fodder was still lying in paddocks around the country, waiting to be harvested. He said government incentives to reduce the cost of freight, such as the natural disaster transport subsidy, would help ensure animals had access to the right feed in the coming year.

The floods did not affect all growing regions – AEXCO said Western Australia would likely be able to pick up the slack from the eastern states. The southern half of WA had an “excellent” harvest season, it said, and that produced adequate volumes of high quality hay to meet demand.

Stephen Mudd, an economist with NSW Farmers, said that bringing in hay from other states relied on good transport networks, but that infrastructure was also damaged by the floods. He said that damage would exacerbate any incoming shortages.

The Australian Fodder Industry Association implored farmers to be proactive and find alternative sources of fodder as pastures recovered. A spokesperson said many farmers had already planted summer crops to help feed their animals.

They pointed to a report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences inDecember which predicted that the availability of high grade fodder would be reduced in 2023 due to the floods.

They also said that high grain prices, which are forecast to persist in 2022-23, meant farmers may choose to grow grain in areas previously grown for hay. But they added that hay may be grown as a fallow crop to control weeds.

“Lower grade product is available and, in addition to this, pasture growth is continuing, feed grain is available and silage production has also been good across most of the country,” a spokesperson for the Australian Fodder Industry Association said. “This leaves farmers with a range of alternatives.”

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