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Growers can avoid disaster by making hay from frosted grain crops

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Growers of grain crops exposed to frost Australia wide can avoid complete disaster by turning the frosted crops into hay. Hundreds of growers chose this option last September after a large portion of the east coast cropping belt was hit by a severe frost.

Feed Central came into the picture by offering growers from central Queensland to southern Victoria a platform to market this hay, achieving good prices across the country.

With reports of frost damage coming in, Feed Central Managing Director Tim Ford said growers should be prepared for this eventuality and be aware of the options available to them.

Having helped several hundred growers after they turned otherwise quite good frosted grain crops into hay, Mr Ford explained that a frosted crop didn’t have to be a total disaster since a very large portion of that product sold at strong prices.

Mr Ford said frosted cereal crops make very good quality hay. In fact, many growers reported making more money out of the hay than what they would have from a grain crop.

While hay prices remain strong in most parts of the country, they are expected to ease as a new season approaches before rising again in 2015.

Reports have been coming in over recent weeks of severe frosts having extended from Tasmania to the Queensland tropics, with some areas already reporting damage, particularly to crops sown early. Up to 30 per cent of cropping regions in some states have been hit by frost with forecasts of more to come.

According to Mr Ford, growers with frosted crops do have options but he advises them to follow a few golden rules with hay.

For instance, growers should seek the advice of an agronomist to ascertain the extent of the damage and help determine potential yields. They should ensure the hay is fully cured and made at low moisture – ideal number are less than 14 per cent for export and 18 per cent for domestic markets. Choosing bale size is also critical as the right bale size will dramatically decrease freight and handling costs for both buyer and seller.

Mr Ford said the most common and most efficient bale size is 8x4x3, with most contractors who operate good balers getting about 580-680 kg per bale, fully cured with baling moisture content of around 16 per cent.

While most growers and contractors do a good job with baling and curing hay, many growers take a hit with cash flow shortly after baling, since baling costs are significantly more than grain harvest costs, leaving them cash poor at harvest and resulting in panic selling.

Mr Ford advises growers to avoid this situation by discussing the issue with their bank manager prior to making hay about a short term facility as they can dramatically improve their outcomes since hay prices typically go up during autumn and winter.

Instead of selling in spring when demand is low and volume is high, growers can hold for a few more months with good storage and the right finance carrying their product through to when demand is high and supply is low.

Storage is another complex issue for growers because they need to hold the quality of the hay to get the best price. Mr Ford recommends hay sheds as the best option though hay caps and tarps are also a good option when used properly.

Mr Ford said that following these golden rules will help most growers with frosted crops manage their situation reasonably well. Growers whose crops have already been exposed to frost would do well to start thinking of making hay, planning storage and managing cash flow. As he puts it, most hay in this country is made in a 60-day window, but cows are eating 365 days of the year.

Feed Central can be contacted for more obligation-free advice about making and marketing hay. Feed Central provides hay certification and marketing services to a national client base and has marketed and sold more than 100,000 tonnes of quality assured hay in the past 12 months.

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