WA government rules out subsidies for farmers facing feed shortage as ‘seasons get hotter and drier’

WA government rules out subsidies for farmers facing feed shortage as ‘seasons get hotter and drier’

A state government-backed taskforce will assess drought and mental health support for WA farmers who face the prospect of culling herds as they experience one of the driest autumns on record.

The announcement comes as producers who sweltered through the hottest summer on record endure soaring feed costs as the hot dry weather flows into autumn.

Denmark Transport driver Matt Cybula usually carts hay, grain, fertiliser and lime around the Frankland River region 330 kilometres south of Perth.

Denmark truck driver Matt Cybula is getting “at least half a dozen calls a day” from farmers looking for hay.(ABC News: Mark Bennett)

Supply and demand

He said increasing demand and limited supply meant farmers as far away as Narrogin and Lake Grace were chasing hay that had doubled in price.

“The first season’s hay was around $220 to $240 a tonne, now it’s around $440 a tonne,” he said.

“It’s the age-old supply and demand, people are either hanging onto [hay] or they know the commodity they’ve got, and they are asking top dollar for it,” he said.

Mr Cybula said the continuing dry weather coupled with the rising cost and scarcity of feed was taking a toll on farmers and stock alike.

“In terms of mental health, they’re struggling because they don’t want to see their animals suffer,” he said.

Denmark farmer Ken Burke says the start of the 2024 season has been “unusual”. (ABC News: Mark Bennett)

‘People are hurting out there’

Denmark beef producer Ken Bourke, who has farmed cattle in the region for over 30 years, said fields that would normally be green with grass were bare, forcing him to turn to feedstock.

“Winter rain cut off really early and we’ve had a dry spell since September,” he said.

“I’ve got plenty of hay and silage now, so I’m not so worried … But I know people are hurting out there”.

Data from the Bureau of Meteorology showed that 2023 was the South West Land Division’s seventh-driest year on record, and driest for rainfall since 2019.

Parts of the South West have received no rain in the last four months. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

The shortage is being felt right across the state, with livestock agents reporting diminished supply and increasing costs for farmers from the South West, right up to the Gascoyne.

“It’s from Carnarvon, right the way down. There are very few patches with worthwhile rain,” Elders Livestock Agent Wayne Mitchell said

Mr Mitchell said it was time the government addressed the issues facing the state’s producers before it reached a tipping point.

“There are producers now that are sourcing feed that have never had to do that …There needs to be subsidies on freight, whether that be for livestock or fodder,” he said.

Livestock feed prices have increased because of the high demand. (ABC News: Kate Forrester )

‘Farmers need to be prepared’

Agriculture Minister Jackie Jarvis said she was aware of the issues farmers were facing and had asked the Wheatbelt Development Commission CEO Rob Cossack to establish a 2024 Dry Season Response Taskforce.

Low rainfall has seen dams dry up right across the Great Southern (ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

Ms Jarvis said the WDC taskforce would look at access to feed and fodder in affected areas, but downplayed providing any new subsidies or financial support.

“Farmers need to be prepared, and farmers know this already, that our seasons are getting hotter and drier,” she said.

“Tens of millions of dollars since 2021 have been rolled out across our farming regions to provide the support but also for the research and extension activities to actually teach farmers what they need to do differently in the face of a drying climate.”

Jackie Jarvis has talked down the possibility of providing subsidies for producers.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Ms Jarvis acknowledged 2024 was one of the “driest, hottest autumns on record” with “no significant rainfall since spring last year” and said she had directed Mr Cossack to prioritise mental health initiatives after concerns around mass euthanasia were raised.

“If they can’t sell animals they do have to sometimes make tough decisions, and that does sometimes include euthanasing animals,” she said.

“I have asked a taskforce of industry experts to provide me urgent advice on what mechanisms are in place to support farmers through this hard time.”

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