By KATE BANVILLE
GRAZIERS will be fighting the effects of recent bushfires long after the flames are extinguished with damage to the land, fencing, and a dire need for feed now causing serious concern.
More than 300,000 hectares of land has been completely destroyed by bushfires across Queensland this spring, with worsening fire conditions expected throughout summer.
That’s in addition to the more than 13 million hectares of Northern Territory land which has gone up in flames in the past two months alone.
It’s added pressure for livestock owners across the board as they struggle to keep animals fed amid a national livestock feed shortage caused by years of record flooding and a destructive mouse plague.
With cattle still to move, feed, and in some cases offload, grazier Adam Coffey, as Cattle Australia’s outgoing acting chief executive, said many in the industry would be forced to make tough decisions as they balance animal welfare, land protection, and financial pressures.
Coffey (pictured) said the recent fires and a looming drought had worsened an industry slump following a rapid decline of its market price.
And it’s not an issue impacting Australia alone. Beef markets around the world are experiencing a decline in demand, with global cattle prices now split into two distinct groups: those in North America and Europe and the rest of the world.
As one of the three largest beef exporters alongside America and Brazil, Australia sends close to 70 per cent of its production offshore.
“I guess it is a perfect storm,” Coffey said.
“I understand that a lot of economies are still pretty sluggish post COVID and that was certainly evident in Indonesia recently when I was over there.
“We’ve seen the Indonesian live export issue with the lumpy skin disease and that’s created another bottleneck where it’s potentially forcing cattle to come south that don’t normally.
“But again, what we’re solving in Asia would be an increase in demand and the demand is just not there so it’s a very tricky situation.”
A herd rebuild phase for Australia saw record prices for beef in recent years driven by supply and demand. Coffey said wholesale prices had dropped considerably which should force retailers to follow suit.
Coffey said producers expected a market correction, just not at the rapid pace it’s arrived.
“It’s probably only been six months since our prices have just fallen off a cliff,” he said.
“When I look at what our cattle are worth now on the market, it’d be a quarter of what they were worth about a month ago so that’s a pretty hard business scenario to run the numbers of.”
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For now though, he’s just like many of his industry colleagues who’ve been battling fires in their own paddocks.
Based at Colosseum in Central Queensland, Coffey said it had taken a community effort with a crew of neighbours fighting fires alongside one another.
“We’re no stranger to fighting fires, it’s part of life on the land but we had a big bushfire nearby that went for a good week which was sparked by lightning strike,” he said.
“A lot of us have spent the best part of last week where we would have been lucky to get 20 hours sleep across the week, back burning until four o’clock in the morning and that sort of jazz.
“We’re all still pretty buggered and getting over it, and there’s that physical and mental exhaustion of dealing with the current emergency that these producers have on hand before even thinking about the next step.”
In response, a Bushfire Fodder Taskforce was established by the Palaszczuk government last week to assist primary producers.
Emergency fodder drops have been coordinated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, alongside AgForce and Rural Aid.
Almost 400 bales of feed has already landed in Queensland paddocks with deliveries over the weekend to Ban Ban Springs (72 bales), Eidsvold (79 bales), Toondahra (32 bales) and Durong (32 bales).
An additional road train is expected to deliver into the Southern Downs today.
“With thousands of hectares of pasture wiped out in the bushfires, many farmers and their communities will need ongoing disaster recovery support,” Rural Aid chief executive officer John Warlters (picture) said.
“We have been doing this since 2015 with the original ‘Buy a Bale’ campaign and we are asking people to support us now to continue this vital work.”
Primary producers affected by disaster can get state-government support: concessional loans up to $250,000 and freight assistance up to $5,000.
The 10-year loans can be used for repairing damaged equipment or farm buildings, replacing lost livestock, and replanting affected areas.
“Thanks to the efforts of the taskforce more than 50 primary producers have received fodder support, a critical lifeline for their livestock,” Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said.