DROUGHT: Dire need to find new feed
THE likelihood of severe drought continuing in Queensland and other eastern states in 2019 will place further pressure on stockfeed supplies such as hay and cottonseed meal.
Most drought-related feed supplements are already in short supply and predictions of a late wet season and the distinct possibility of an El Nino forming in spring raises the spectre of another turbulent 18 months for the nation's primary producers.
Townsville-based stockfeed manufacturer Peter McHugh of Causeway Produce said one way the Federal Government could assist drought-stricken farmers was to investigate the possibility of importing protein meals that could be used in stock feed. He said one such protein meal was palm-kernel meal which is a by-product of the palm-oil industry. He said it was available in large quantities, but said factories supplying it would have to be cleared by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.
He said oil-palm meal contained 16 per cent protein and would be suitable as an additive to drought feed mixes.
Mr McHugh said he was opposed to calls for hay exports to be suspended and for the hay to be diverted to Australian farmers battling the drought. He said if the Government stopped the hay exports the businesses would suffer and contracts would probably not be renewed by importers when the drought broke.
Mr McHugh said cottonseed meal, prized for its high 43 per cent protein content was virtually unavailable. He said supply would be even worse in 2019 if the drought continued as expected.
"I've been told Australia's cotton plantings will be down by 50 per cent next year if it doesn't rain, so that means less meal will be made from the seed. If we think we've got a problem with protein meals and feed now, just wait until next year if it doesn't rain," he said.
Mr McHugh said opening the palm-kernel meal supply lines from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea could be a slow process, given the biosecurity protocols that would have to be undertaken by the Federal Government.
While hay and other stock feeds are in short supply, the one commodity that appears to be holding up is molasses. The sugarcane by-product sourced from sugar mills is rich in protein and energy and can be fortified with urea and other food boosters.
Stocklick Trading is a major supplier of stock feed products in North Queensland. Its Charters Towers factory supplies stock feeds to inland and Central Queensland while its Mt Garnet operation services the Gulf Country and Peninsula. Brett Ryan from the company's Mt Garnet factory said molasses appeared to be in good supply.
"We have no issues with molasses supplies. We get ours from the Tully mill and we are not aware of any panic buying," Mr Ryan said.
Australian Sugar Milling Council chief executive David Pietsch said domestic demand for molasses was high this year.
He said supplies were "tight" which was the situation with most drought feed commodities.
"It is a dire situation in Queensland as it is along most of the eastern seaboard," Mr Pietsch said.
Mr Pietsch said even the size of this year's cane crop had been downgraded due to dry conditions.
Last week Veronica Gostelow was feeding out molasses on Ron Bahr's Burdekin property. Mr Bahr was feeding molasses and cottonseed meal to cattle brought down from his family's Greenvale Station.
Mr Bahr said it was the driest he had seen his property which is located just north of Giru in the northern Burdekin.
"We're feeding out molasses and we were able to get some cottonseed. What happens next depends on the wet season," Mr Bahr said.