By Allison Rehn
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
AUSTRALIA could be importing food for cattle within weeks, as the crisis in the country's rural sector worsens, breaking more and more farmers' hearts.Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said yesterday the "real problem" facing beef and dairy farmers across the country was the unprecedented lack of stock feed.
Unless there is substantial rainfall this weekend and over the next couple of weeks, Australia will have to look to our neighbours for help.
"The twin problems here with the fodder is it's increasingly scarce and at this rate will be totally unavailable, and secondly it's expensive – beyond the reach of most of livestock producers," Mr McGauran said.
"Towards late May we will know whether importation should commence. But it might be in the next week or so that livestock industries say, 'It's better to be safe than sorry', and a boatload of roughage should be arranged."
While there is enough grain for sheep and cattle at the moment, it's the lack of roughage that is panicking Australia's 80,000 beef and dairy farmers.
Roughage is an essential part of a cow's diet and includes hay or other coarse feed.
However due to tough quarantine regulations, Australia can not import hay. Instead we would have to import hybrid roughage blends.
A document seen by The Daily Telegraph shows Australia could be forced to import palm kernel meal from the Pacific Islands, soybean and maize meal from Canada, New Zealand and the US, stock feed pellets from New Zealand and tapioca from Thailand.
Mr McGauran said if that ended up being the case, it would be the first time in history that Australia imported stock feed other than grain.
"Without an autumn break it will be a struggle for one and all and sadly the end for some," Mr McGauran said.
Figures for 2006 show that in NSW there were 26,000 beef and dairy properties – a herd of 5.7 million. In 2004-05, Australia exported $6.9 billion worth of beef, veal and dairy products.
NSW Farmers Association president Jock Laurie said the demand for stock feed – in particular roughage – would "certainly become greater".
Mr Laurie said some parts of NSW were in an "absolutely dire situation", forcing stock into abattoirs.