SILAGE bunkers across large parts of Queensland and New South Wales have been topped up again after another summer of heavy rain and big crops.
The situation is a massive turn around in the past three years, when stocks were drawn down in 2019 and hay was heading thousands-of-kilometres north from Victoria. It seems the bad drought years have motivated many to invest in storage and lock feed away for the next drought.
Expansion of feedlot capacity has also increased the demand for the product, with grain-fed cattle making up half of the Australian kill last year for the first time ever and increased Wagyu numbers keeping cattle on feed for longer.
One Darling Downs lotfeeder told Beef Central most of the company’s suppliers were able to cut silage from forage sorghum crops twice this summer, which had filled its inventory. Darling Downs-based Silage Solutions harvesting contractor Ian Mikkelsen said most of the feedlots had filled their silage requirements this year.
“We were busy cutting in the early part of summer, then we weren’t as busy in the second harvest and I think spring will be even more quietl,” Mr Mikkelsen said.
“Our last couple of spring harvests were busier than normal and that was because a lot of feedlots were planting extra and trying to build their stocks up after the drought. But most of them are now only cutting what they use, which is a shift back to normality.”
Mr Mikkelsen said it was hard to tell if there had ever been as much silage in storage as there was this year.
“We have had our business for about 15 years and most of those years have been pretty dry and had a lighter crop than normal, but more acres have been planted over time,” he said.
“2008 was a big year and because there was so much in storage after that year there wasn’t as much grown after the 2011 floods, so it was a different situation back then. At the moment, the feedlots have filled up and are only replacing what they’ve used. But they are bigger operations than they were.”
More silage for drought preparation
Lallemand’s Toowoomba-based technical services manager Jordan Minniecon said there was a growing appetite to lock away silage for drought preparedness.
“A lot of cattle producers out there are still pushing to put silage away, people are more keen to do that than we’ve ever seen before and I think that’s about futureproofing their operations,” Mr Minniecon said.
“We’re seeing a significant shift in some of the breeder operations and some of the smaller feedlot operations starting to stack more forage than they ever have before.
“There’s also a bit of government drought resilience money around to build silage bunkers and other storage infrastructure and I think a lot of people are taking advantage of that.”
Mr Minniecon said the motivation to put silage away came from previous drought years when producers and feedlots significantly drew down on stockpiles.
“When it rained in February 2020, we were still chopping forage in June and July, which is unusual, and that was because everyone was trying to maximise the forage stocks as much as they could,” he said.
“There was a lot of people looking over the fence in the 2019 drought, who maybe didn’t have silage put away, and their neighbours or other producers have motivated them to build storage.”
Mr Minniecon said a lot of silage stocks have been replenished after two favourable growing years.
“There’s still a fair bit of silage around and plenty of demand from Central Qld where it’s still dry or producers futureproofing their operations in other parts the state,” he said.
“This year will be interesting with the grain market and the Russia/Ukraine situation, whether farmers will look grow forage again or if they let it go through to grain and take advantage of the high prices.”
Could be the most silage ever
Further south, Lallemand’s Vic and Southern NSW technical services manager David Lewis said big spring silage years had filled storages.
“We’re a big irrigated summer silage growing area here in Northern Victoria and there was a good crop this year. Central NSW has conserved a lot of fodder over the last two years of good seasons,” Mr Lewis said.
“Many farmers will be in a good position to start their winter cropping programs and a lot of people are looking to continue to store fodder for the long-term while they have the chance.
“People now realise the knowledge and technology in the silage making these days ensures they can have access to good clean silage and it’s able to be stored for a long time.”
Mr Lewis said anecdotally, there was a chance the amount of feed in storage this year was as high as it ever has been.
“There’s no numbers kept on this in Australia but the amount of silage in storage at the moment has to be high historically,” he said.
“Most people can’t remember a time when so many regions have had good seasons at the same time.”
The hay market has been on a different trajectory to silage, with production down in the past two years.