Parts of the Hunter, such as Laguna, haven’t seen good rain in months. (ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)
Farmers in the New South Wales Hunter Valley are using hay supplies they would normally have saved for winter to reduce the effects of drought.
Large swathes of NSW have not had decent rain in months with the Hunter Valley particularly hard-hit.
Many landholders have sold livestock and others are buying feed to help sustain their animals.
Craig Kirkwood’s family have owned a rural supplies business at Maitland since 1921, and said conditions were among the worst he had seen.
He said many graziers were having to use the feed they would usually save for winter.
“The tell-tale part of the dry [conditions] will come [in] June, July, August — that really hard part of the winter — because [their] stock is getting depleted now,” he said.
“Rather than being able to source your hay locally, we’ll have to start sourcing it from areas that haven’t been affected as [badly as] us.
“That will also increase price, because [it will travel] further by freight.
“It can get to a point where it will get very, very tight.
Craig Kirkwood’s family have owned a rural supplies business in Maitland since 1921. (ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)
“If you can source a little bit of hay, or stay ahead of yourself, good hay won’t go off. It won’t deteriorate if it’s stored properly.
“We aren’t a big hay-growing community [in the Hunter], and the local suppliers won’t see it out the way we’re going.”
High cattle prices encouraging
Mr Kirkwood said because cattle prices remained strong, many farmers were choosing to retain their animals and buy feed, instead of selling.
“Whilst ever you feed something and the market stays strong, you’re putting on weight [in the livestock]. Hopefully that will compensate for what you’re doing,” he said.
“It’s not a good thing because people are spending more money than they should have to.
Cattle producers in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley are hand feeding stock, as dry conditions worsen. (ABC News: Colin Kerr)
“If grain prices start to change then you’ll know [the business will] have to pass that on. That becomes an issue too because, not only are you buying more feed, it’s costing you more.
“We’ve noticed good sales in cattle feed, but also our horse feed.
“People who have horses on agistment, or they have them in yards, they have no choice but to give them some hard feed out in the paddock to supplement what they’re doing.
“I’ve found a really large spike in cattle feed, horse feed.”
Extra expenses imposed by drought’s effects
Daniela Riccio runs cattle and alpacas on her small property at Laguna in the Wollombi Valley.
She said she had been buying feed for more than a year because there had been little rain to help grass grow.
“Every couple of months we’re buying massive shed-loads of hay,” she said.
“I haven’t had to do this in the last five years, it’s only been the last 12 months, and we’re still not getting enough rain.
“Trying to find quality hay is a little bit hard, and then the price — it’s jumped up quite a bit.
“We’re now thinking we might sell all the cattle and just give it a break because I don’t know if we’re going to get some proper rain and I’d also like to rest the grass.”
Farmers in the Hunter have been feeding their livestock hay usually reserved for winter. (ABC Newcastle: Robert Virtue)
Spending drying up
The other effect of drought on rural supplies businesses like Mr Kirkwood’s is landholders tend to spend less on equipment and accessories used on their properties.
Mr Kirkwood said he had noticed farmers in the Hunter were already cutting back on extra purchases.
“With our business being seasonal, we should now be starting to think about fertiliser and pasture seed for the winter,” he said.
“In a good season you would have a lot of interest. We haven’t had too much interest because it’s very hard to try and ring someone up and sell them fertiliser and seed when there’s no water, or it’s so dry, or so depressing-looking out there.
“This is the problem the dry poses: we should now be looking at doing our autumn seed and pasture program, but with the way the weather is no-one’s ready to commit.
“Also [repairing] fences, drenching, all those things, take a little bit of a backburner.
“Whilst they have to be done, they aren’t being done as freely as what you would if you were having a good season.”