Feed shortage hits dairy

By Jeanette Severs

AUSTRALIA’S ONGOING eastern states drought, with 23 per cent less summer crops sown, has been blamed for the need to import high-protein wheat from Canada.

The recent announcement comes on the back of news that GrainCorp announced an after-tax loss, blaming a low harvest due to ongoing drought. In a company statement, grain deliveries to GrainCorp’s Deniliquin receival facility were down almost 70 per cent year-on-year and by more than 80 per cent at Tocumwal.

Despite a bumper crop being harvested in Western Australia, the total Australian wheat crop production decreased by 19 per cent and the family-owned grain processing and food manufacturing agribusiness, Manildra Group, does not believe there is enough high protein wheat available domestically. It processes this grade of wheat to extract gluten and starch for value-added products at its Shoalhaven Starches facility at Bomaderry, NSW. The directors argued importing wheat in the short term is critical to the viable ongoing operation of the facility until the end of this year.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources approved Manildra Group’s permit to import recently — the wheat is expected to arrive in Australia from Canada in late June or July.

It is one of 11 applications before DAWR to import bulk grain from Canada and the United States— as well as wheat, there are applications for corn, sorghum and canola that have been under consideration since the second half of last year. Some of these applications were made because of the dairy and feedlot industries’ need to guarantee ongoing production of livestock feed products, against the impact of ongoing drought in Australia’s eastern states.

ABARES estimated a 33 per cent reduction in summer crop production Australia-wide; wheat fell by 19 per cent, barley by seven per cent, canola by 41 per cent, chickpeas by 76 per cent and oats by 21 per cent.

A DAWR spokesperson confirmed the remaining 10 applications are in varying stages of assessment. Manildra Group is among the remaining applicants and is the only applicant to contact Grain Growers Ltd, Australia’s grower-member group.

Manildra Group’s principals first advised DAWR in August last year about a potential crop shortfall impacting its business and the viability of its Nowra processing plant. Manildra Group formally advised Grain Growers Ltd of its application to DAWR, on Melbourne Cup Day last year.

Manildra Group’s application was for wheat to be used to produce value-added and export products, especially to meet its export trade commitments. The gluten and starch extracts are used in producing stockfeed, bakery goods, syrups, baking and dry condiment mixes, noodles and pasta, paper products and ethanol applications including pharmaceutical products, alcohol and fuel.

According to Grain Growers chairperson Brett Hosking, there was sufficient domestic wheat production to meet the livestock feed needs of Australia’s dairy farmers, feedlot operators and pig and chicken farmers. However, Manildra was in doubt there was enough of it’s sourced product being harvested to continue operations at it’s Bomaderry plant in the short term. Hence, the application to import wheat.

“A significant portion of the Western Australian harvest has been transported to the eastern states for the domestic livestock market; and there is ample grain to ensure feed supplies are catered for,” Mr Hosking said.

Grain Growers has been advising DAWR and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud about the need for strict biosecurity around any imported grain and oilseeds.

“We are making sure the minister and DAWR biosecurity officers are informed of growers’ concerns. It is critical to protect our environment — our native wildlife — and our agricultural production,” Mr Hosking said.

“We’ve also been talking about the social considerations — the effect on grain growers from importing grains and oilseeds.”

The import conditions require the grain is sourced from areas assessed as presenting a low plant and animal biosecurity risk and impose strict movement, storage and processing controls within Australia.

Among the biosecurity risks are rust and other foliage and root diseases, weeds and insect pests that are not part of the Australian landscape.

“We understand Manildra has purchased specialist containers that guarantee the wheat is sealed in transit from port to processing facility. They have assured us the processing facility is closed circuit,” Mr Hosking said.

Manildra Group issued a statement that confirmed the wheat shipment would be heated and processed in a closed loop facility at Bomaderry.

In the meantime, cereal crops sown in Australia’s south on the back of rain in late April and early May, are thirsty for follow-up irrigation.

“Some growers have sown into moisture for the first time in a few years,” Mr Hosking said.

But grain growers in northern NSW and Queensland are still facing a tough sowing season.