TOUGH SUMMER: Upper Tenthill lucerne grower Chris Natalier said they aren't taking on new clients.
TOUGH SUMMER: Upper Tenthill lucerne grower Chris Natalier said they aren't taking on new clients. Dominic Elsome

Despite huge spike in feed prices, growers aren't benefiting

FODDER growers' sheds are emptying as fast as buyers' wallets this season, with an expected bad winter driving demand.

Upper Tenthill lucerne grower Chris Natalier said he was no longer taking on new clients due to the demand.

"We're selling lucerne one, two, three cuts in advance," Mr Natalier said.

"All our lucerne is sold now for winter, we're just keeping on our best customers that have been with us for fifty years now."

The many lush green fields of lucerne that dot the region waiting to be cut are deceiving, with most already sold in advance to buyers.

Mr Natalier said growers have faced a tough summer, and this, coupled with high demand, meant there is little or no reserve stock to keep prices down.

"There's no extra hay. The price is just going up and up - but people seem to be happy to pay the price," he said.

"I've been on the farm 10 years now and it's the worst summer - driest, hottest - we've had.

"We're having to water most things twice and you're still getting lesser cuttings because it's so dry."

Australian Fodder Industry Association CEO John McKew said the lack of supply was consistent across the eastern seaboard, and labelled the situation "precarious".

"It's very, very tight in terms of supply," Mr McKew said.

"It's increasingly difficult to source any kind of product, and that includes high quality cereal hays or anything else for that matter.

"The market has become incredibly tight."

With a dry winter likely across most of Australia, Mr McKew said prices could get worse as livestock owners scramble to secure more feed.

"It's probably going to be very difficult to find substantial quantities ... let's not even talk about quality," he said.

"For those looking to find feed it's going to be very difficult, and I think that it's going to be an on going problem and that is going to be a problem right from now through winter."


Upper Tenthill lucerne grower Chris Natalier
Upper Tenthill lucerne grower Chris Natalier. Dominic Elsome

Chris Natalier said the wide spread dry was impacting on the local market, reducing fodders even further and driving prices higher still.

"You've got a double edged sword, you're going into winter and it's getting drier and drier," he said.

"It's not only dry here, it's dry the whole of eastern Australia - usually you'd have hay coming up from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales to cover our winter period."

Despite the exorbitant prices for feed, Mr Natalier said growers weren't seeing a boost to their profits.

The dry conditions mean their bank balances were suffering from stunted growth just like their crops.

"People say you must be making a fortune getting what you're getting - but you don't really see it," he said.

Increased costs from additional watering and reduced yields meant growers weren't making any gains.

"I'd hate to think what position we'd be in financially if we weren't getting big prices," he said.

"We're not actually making that much - your margins are so small now."

He said a warmer than average winter expected by the Bureau of Meteorology could cause issues with pests, adding further costs.

"What you'll probably find is the pests will hang around - so you'll be spraying even more," he said.

"You sort of rely on that cold weather to sort of kill the cycle. At the moment we've been spraying once a cut, every cut, since December - and that usually tapers of about now as you head into the cold months, but we're still spraying."

The only thing that will change the fortunes of growers and livestock owners a like is good soaking rain.

Mr Natalier said many in the region were starting to reach the end of their water reserves and desperately needed serious rainfall.

"If we don't get a flood in the nest 12 to 18 months - it'll be tough, real tough," he said.

But when when it does rain properly, conditions will change quickly - something both growers and livestock owners need.