Desperate Australian grain-fed livestock producers are looking to import grain, despite soaring prices and quarantine restrictions limiting its supply.The winter cereal harvest has begun, and today the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics releases a special drought report that will further downgrade the size of the crop.
After a dry winter, ABARE downgraded the total cereal harvest forecast in September from 37 million tonnes to 25.6million. It downgraded the winter wheat harvest from 22.5million tonnes to 15.5 million, well below the five-year average of 21.6 million.
Ron Storey, from Australian Crop Forecasters, estimates a wheat crop of about 13 million tonnes. "We had a shocking September and pretty much a shocking October," he said.
There have been exceptions: "A few blotches of rain in Queensland have helped and some in southern Victoria, the plants are still green down there and they will get a little bit of benefit out of that."
After a terrible start in Western Australia, the southern areas have had a reasonable spring. WA grainhandler CBH has revised down its winter grain harvest from 7.5 million tonnes to 6.9 million tonnes. About 70 per cent of that harvest is wheat.
Mr Storey said there would not be enough grain on the east coast to supply the domestic market. "We will be supplementing with supplies from South Australia, certainly, and probably from WA before the year is out," he said. "I think there will probably be some imported grain, but the realities are because of the AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) constraints, and the logistics, we are not going to be substantially supplied from imports."
A meeting is being held today in Canberra on the feed grain outlook.
Kathleen Plowman from Australian Pork Limited said her industry was in a severe crisis.
"Our farmers are desperate. Some of our farmers are lucky to walk off with the shirt on their back," Ms Plowman said.
The pork industry is being squeezed by the high Australian dollar affecting exports, competition from imports and escalating feed grain prices.
"Our producers are losing between $50 and $60 a pig that they produce," she said.
"I hear about producers having to shoot their pigs because they cannot afford to feed them and worse still, they cannot afford to transport them to the abattoirs. It is heartbreaking."