There is a precedent for feedgrain to be shifted from one part of Australia to another during times of drought and local supply pressures, as discussed in this morning’s companion article, “Lotfeeders eye-off southern grain ‘imports’, as prices surge.”
Historically, the 1996 drought year was probably the biggest ever shift of grain around the country, for use by the intensive livestock industry, Queensland lotfeeder Kevin Roberts says.
That year, a lot of barley was shipped to the east coast out of Fremantle, and other grain headed north from Adelaide and Melbourne. Other grain was imported from overseas.
“Back in 1996, Australia got down to about 7.5 million tonnes of grain – most of which was in the hands of the AWB, and already sold to overseas customers,” Mr Roberts said.
“The national stocks were basically in deficit,” he said.
“The chicken industry, for example, imported around 350,000 tonnes of grain into Newcastle in 1996. Other intensive livestock producers imported around 50,000 tonnes of corn into Brisbane, which showed AWB that while they could make the industry pay, it would not be held to ransom, and there was a limit.”
Mr Roberts said the difference this year, compared with the situation in the mid-1990s when overseas grain imports took place for intensive livestock production, was that this time, there was still plenty of grain available – but it was located in other parts of the continent.
While in theory it would still be possible to import feedgrain grain from overseas for livestock use in Australia under an existing protocol, in practise, that was not feasible, Mr Roberts said, because it would require the grain to be steam-flaked near the wharf to denature it and remove any disease threat, before being transported up-country.
Currently, no such processing facility existed close to port to allow that to happen, with the old Redbank mill near Brisbane now long-gone.
He said it was a ‘damn shame’ that the option of overseas grain import was not on the table, as the feedlot industry had fought long and hard to establish an acceptable protocol with government to provide that option – precisely for an event like this.
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