Australian agriculture at a critical juncture

The 2008 U.S. Grains Council Officer’s Mission kicked off this month in Canberra, Australia where council leadership met with officials from Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Joel Freemen, policy and technical officer with the Australia Quarantine Inspection Service, said Australian farmers are currently facing the worst drought in 80 to 100 years.

“The drought in the early 1990s, as you may recall, was severe but this is much deeper. Many farmers are going out of business,” said Freemen. “Suicide rates in rural areas are astronomical and are directly associated with the drought.” Freemen added that although many farmers in drought stricken areas are remaining optimistic, he anticipates the current situation to result in increasing consolidation of farming operations. “Those family farms that are hanging in there will be waiting at least 5 years just to reach break-even levels,” he said. Areas that are accumulating any significant rainfall are not regions where the bulk of agricultural production occurs. Although Freemen said planting expectations for wheat will not be known until April or May, the sorghum crop that will soon be harvested will be “substantial” and will serve as a major feed ingredient in lieu of the shortage of other primary feed ingredients.

Dale Artho, USGC chairman, said Australia is not a major importer of feed grains and despite the drought does not expect that to change anytime soon. “Biotechnology continues to be a trade barrier for U.S. feed grains entering into the Australian marketplace. There is a lot of misinformation on the safety of genetically enhanced grains, especially among consumers and policy makers,” said Artho, adding that there is substantial hope for distiller’s dried grains with solubles. “We will be meeting with end-users in the coming days to assess the logistics of exporting the ethanol co-product (DDGS).”

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