North Qld farmers fighting to survive
Another fighting front has been added to the six-year drought that station owners have been battling in inland North Queensland.
As if lack of rain, scant grass reserves and a shortage of agistment weren't enough, graziers are now up against a shortage of protein meal for their sorely needed drought fodder supplies.
A shortage of essential proteins used in stock feed ration mixes has reduced availability and driven up costs.
The drought in NSW and Victoria is sucking up supplies of protein ingredients such as soya bean and copra meal. Prices are already through the roof and are expected to go even higher as the year draws to a close and inland areas enter the seasonal phase known as the "protein drought".
This is the late end of the year from around mid-October to the first rain in December when the native grasses hold next to nothing in terms of nutrients.
This is the time of the year when cattlemen rely on imported feed supplements to keep their stock healthy until the season breaks and the rainy season arrives.
David Coleman, of Coleman Stock Feeds Pty Ltd, in Charters Towers, said high protein cotton seed meal had been in short supply since March.
He said distillery grain, a by-product of the ethanol manufacturing process that is used in feed mixes was hard to source and expensive.
The most up to date drought map for Queensland shows just under 58 per cent of the state is officially drought declared.
This includes more than half of the 68,000 square kilometre Charters Towers Regional Council, 90 per cent of the 59,000sq km Isaac Regional Council and 90 per cent of the 24,000sq km Whitsunday Regional Council. The 41,500sq km Flinders Shire, the 27,000sq km Richmond Shire and the 41,000sq km McKinlay Shire Council straddling the Flinders Highway between Charters Towers and Cloncurry are drought declared in their entirety.
All inland council areas down to the NSW and South Australian borders are in the same boat.
Even shires in the southeast corner including Lockyer, Somerset and South Burnett remain drought declared.
"It's not a good outlook for graziers," Mr Coleman said.
"We are struggling to maintain supplies. The only thing available is soya bean meal from South America, but it is going up in price."
Demand for livestock protein mixes was already high and would only increase as dry conditions intensified going into December.
"Right now we are sending feed in every direction from Charters Towers," he said.
Further price rises based on shortening supplies of raw materials and increasing demand were inevitable.
"Grain has gone up $100 a tonne," Mr Coleman said.
"All protein meals have gone up $150 a tonne. I'm paying $600 a tonne now for distiller's grain and $800 a tonne for soya bean meal landed here."
He said most properties were spending between $75,000 and $100,000 a year on feed to get cattle through to the first rain.
Mr Coleman said he should be running a second shift at his plant to keep up with orders and meet demand.
But it wasn't worth running the extra shift because of the supply situation.
"I can't guarantee I can get enough product in to maintain a second shift," he said.