Farmers' desperation brings in new avenues for profit
WITH the drought taking hold, feed grain prices have spiked and most Darling Downs wheat producers from Dalby to Killarney held off planting a winter crop.
Throw in the region-wide lack of pasture feed and there is a perfect storm of high demand and short supplies.
This has pushed otherwise cheap products into profitable territory.
Sorghum grain at the Port of Brisbane is fetching $336-360 a tonne depending on the grade, while wheat is hovering around the $423 mark.
Stock agent David Maher reckons there were plenty of producers bailing last season's grain stubble.
This roughage is mixed with a ration of grain to keep a degree of condition on the district's cattle.
"Traditionally that stubble is ploughed back into the ground, it goes back in as mulch," he said.
"But with dollar value, fellas are bailing it.
"Corn stumble is about $60-80 for a round bail and sorghum stubble is $65-80 for a round bail.
"That's almost double what it would be worth in a good season."
The decision to bail stubble is tough one, particularly in drought.
The longer it stays on the ground the more moisture it protects from evaporation and when paddock stubble is ploughed, the mulch decomposes and returns nutrients to the soil.
The Downs' black soil and loam country is rich in nutrients that often come from silt left after a flood but its potential is limited.
"If you take those nutrients out, over time your yield is going to reduce but it's purely price driven," Mr Maher said.
"The price of fodder is so high they'll bail everything."
Rhodes grass is another cheap product that has, all of a sudden, become viable for bailing.
"There is a lot of pasture hay coming from over the Range that is predominantly Rhodes grass," Mr Maher said.
"There is a lot of hay coming from as far up Gympie that would have been left in the ground for pasture feed."
Locally, producers are cautious and those who have planted winter crops are doing so conservatively.
Scott Peterson from Killarney has only planted about 120 acres of barley.
He'd usually plant about 1000 acres.
"It's next to nothing, but the season has just been too dry for anyone in the district," he said.
The current conditions have not been seen since the early 2000s.
"The high price becomes what people can pay, and we've probably reached the top end of that," Mr Peterson said.
His 120 acres will cover costs and see him through to summer but he is one of only a few producers that will get paid this year.
"We're outside the planting window for winter and for anyone planting a summer crop they won't do that until October to mid-January," Mr Peterson said.
"If they do they won't see any income until March so it's a long time between drinks."