Although recent rains have raised hope for recovery, experts on the ground in Australia say it will take several years for feed production and demand to return to normal after years of record-breaking drought.
Demand for animal feed rose sharply in 2018 in Australia as a result of poor pasture conditions and a record number of cattle raised exclusively on feed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) July Grain and Feed update. But drought in Australia, which has persisted for three to five years in some areas, also cut into grain production, causing the country to begin importing wheat for the first time in more than a decade, according to USDA.
Recent rains in Western and Southern Australia have raised hope of better grain supplies in the year to come, but drought continues in the northern and central portions of the continent. And with many farmers — as well as feed producers — still reeling in the aftermath of the multi-year disaster, full recovery may remain several years out.
“Rainfall is actually less this year than last year for the first six months” in New South Wales and Queensland, said Toby Doak, a nutrition adviser with Alltech Lienert Australia. “Effects will last several years after the drought ,as when the drought breaks, money is tight and numbers reduced, and restocking is an expensive exercise.”
Even in regions where the drought appears to be coming to an end, pastures have been so heavily grazed that “carrying capacity will be reduced for a few seasons following drought,” Doak said in an email to WATTAgNet. It will also take time to rebuild depleted grain and fodder reserves, an exercise that will require additional expense from cash-strapped producers. Cattle farmers in Australia are so low on cash, Doak said, that many will have trouble buying back breeding stock even when their feed capacity returns.
However, Doak anticipates that restocking will not be Australian farmers’ first priority once their financial situation has improved.
“Lessons learned will be to get better prepared,” he said. “So investment in infrastructure will occur with sheds and silos and pits being purchased and built once cash is available.”