FARMAGEDDON: Landowners warned about underground market
SOUTHERN Downs farmers are scrambling to protect a precious resource as warnings of a potential "hay black market" ripple through a drought-stricken region where fodder is becoming nearly impossible to source.
With stockfeed prices soaring, retired farmer and former Royal Agricultural Society member Mary Battye has told producers to lock up hay and be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles around farms.
Empty trucks that look like they could transport large quantities of hay could be a sign of illegal operations, Ms Battye has warned.
"When we have practically no hay on the southeast corner of Australia, we have the situation being set up for a developing hay black market," she said.
Freestone farmer Neil Doyle recently moved 42 bales of sorghum hay away from the road and closer to his house as a precaution.
"The temptation there is just too great, anyone can easily get a car trailer and just take it from the side on the road," Mr Doyle said.
"It (hay theft) definitely could happen because people will do desperate things to get feed in these desperate times."
Olsens Produce manager Ian Wallace said there was potential for an illegal market of stolen hay.
"If the trend continues it won't be a case of how much you are paying for hay it will be a case of whether you can get it at all," he said.
Ms Battye said farmers in NSW had already started installing security cameras and moving bales of hay into lockable storage.
"But I am aware in the Southern Downs because farmers have never experienced this sort of thing they can be somewhat complacent," she said.
"So when there is this level of shortage in southern Queensland they have some real security concerns to face if they want to preserve their own hay."
Feed Central general manager Cieran Maxwell said 99 per cent of hay supplies were not stored in secure locations.
"The majority would be open-front, three sided or two-sided," he said.
Mr Maxwell, who deals with clients across the Southern Downs, hadn't heard any reports of hay theft but said trading had increased.
"We would only suggest you are securing your hay through reputable traders and people have who reputations, but we are certainly not aware of a black market for hay."
According to Mrs Battye, security cameras, padlocks and identity tracking devices were all measures that farmers should consider.
"You would not normally stick a bolus in a hay bale. But in times of such scarcity people are starting to get very serious about protecting their assets."