Seeding Success: a discussion with Grower Relations Manager Stephen Page

Podcast Highlights

This week, Jon Paul Driver chats to Grower Relations Manager Stephen Page about the recent rains, the upcoming hay season, shifts we’re seeing in bale contracting, and opportunities for spreading risk by working to the conditions.

Episode Highlights:

  • A variety of rain events have impacted key hay growing areas recently, with some areas seeing up to 50mm while others have been left dry.
  • Most grazing crops have already been planted from central NSW down into parts of Victoria, and some farmers will be grazing to a certain growth stage before making hay. Most hay growers won’t be planting until after ANZAC Day.
  • To diversify risk and take advantage of opportunities for grain or hay, growers need to look at the history of the paddock, whether it’s prone to frost, and options for weed control and fertilising.
  • It’s important to track the pesticides used on crops as both domestic and international hay sales require a CVD (Commodity Vendor Declaration).
  • The Wimmera Mallee country is seeing lupins and lentils compete with vetch in some regions; meanwhile, the canola price is down and growers are moving from canola back into cereal hay due to price and marketing opportunities.
  • In areas that didn’t receive rain, some growers are choosing to plant dry, which can be a balancing act as the ground has to be dry enough to plant and wet enough to germinate.
  • It’s been an extremely good season for hay production in the majority of areas, but there is still some two year old hay on the market which may be lower quality due to damage; it’s important to feed test and visually inspect the hay to establish the quality.
  •  Although we’re a long way off from making straw, there remains concern from last season’s purchasing decisions made by Darling Downs Feedlots, which heavily concentrated on their local area. This may lead to more caution by southern straw growers this season who missed out on sales.
  • While the price of balers has increased, many more machines are appearing on the second hand market.
  • For growers looking to utilise a contractor at the end of the season, it’s important to start looking now or talk to existing contractors to ensure availability.
  • The hope is for a good curing period to produce quality hay, and that means having those sheds ready. Make sure that they are set up, clean, and ready to store hay.
  • The key to a good season is preparation, capitalising on opportunities, and reduce risk by having options for grains or hay based on the conditions.

Stay up to date and learn more about the industry with the Feed Central Hay Matters Podcast – your portal to the intricate world of hay, brought to life through real stories and expert analysis.

Jon Paul Driver  0:05  

Welcome to the Feed Central Hay Matters podcast your go-to source for all things hay related in Australia. I’m your host John Paul Driver. In today’s episode, we’re joined by Stephen Page, Stephen’s the Grower Relations Manager for Feed Central. Welcome to the podcast.

Stephen Page  0:20  

Thanks JP, good to be back.

Jon Paul Driver  0:22  

Tell me as you’re out and about talking to growers. Tell me what’s going on with the weather. We’re almost at planting season. There’s some things coming up to watch out for let’s let’s start with the weather. 

Stephen Page  0:33  

Yeah, well over that Easter period, which we’ve just come through. There have been some rain events around; the majority of the areas have received some rain, but it has been variable in that too. Like in central New South Wales, it was from nothing up to about 50 mm down to the Riverina. It’s around that Deniliquin area, they got around that eight mm but it got even less to the east and more to the west of that area got up to 25 mm, the Wimmera Mallee country where there’s a lot of hay producers, you’d know it’s anywhere from 15 to 25 mm, the southern coast of Victoria central southern coast or greater southern coast is around that 30 to 50 mm rain down there. And some of them have already got some clovers planted they will be starting to plant now. And then you’ve got that Murray region along the border, the Victorian New South Wales region along west of Aubrey there they got around that 25 mm walk through there. And then we go across to South Australia into that Barossa Clare Valley area. And they didn’t get any rain over there at all. So they are another lot that are requiring rain, they really need a couple of inches of rain very soon to sort of kick off their period, they will also be looking at starting to plant some dry.

Jon Paul Driver  1:58  

Is it planting? Is it sowing? Is it seeding? All of those things I recognise as the act of putting a seed in the ground. But are there regional differences in Australia? 

Stephen Page  2:09  

Yes, definitely. Yes. I’m a Queensland I say planting or sowing more. Yeah. So that’s a terminology I use. Yes. But as I think you’d have the same sort of issue over there. Different terminology in different regions.

Jon Paul Driver  2:28  

But they’re all mutually intelligible. That’s right.

Stephen Page  2:31  

And the majority of people understand when you’re saying planting to sowing they know it’s the same thing.

Jon Paul Driver  2:36  

Right. Right. But it is the season. We’re early in the planting season, right? 

Stephen Page  2:41  

Yeah, so a bit of the crops have, they’ve already started putting out the grazing crops. So you know, there’s some oats planted out to about three weeks ago, in that eastern central New South Wales area where they will just graze it, it won’t be made into hay or anything like that. At this stage, but so the grazing crops have already been planted majority of them where they could get them in have been planted. If they doing that most of central New South Wales down into bits of Victoria, that around that region along the Murray is still a little bit early yet for the oats. They don’t want it to plant too early because you have the issue unless they’re going to graze. So some will plant now on this rain event. They will get the crop up they will graze it and then we get to a certain stage and they’ll say right, okay, we’re going to take the take the sheep off it, they are now and we’re going to let it go through and we’re going to make hay out of it. So they’ll do that. In good regions, when we have a really good season, even some of the dryland country will be done like that. In the irrigators anywhere from Forbes in that region south, there will be people that will do that in that irrigated country. Yeah, they can get away with that, but majority of them through that region won’t really be planting their crops for just pure hay production until after the about that last week after Anzac Day, so we’re still a few weeks away from that yet. Yeah. So end of April 25. Anzac Day is the 25th of April.

Jon Paul Driver  4:20  

I’ve recently learned about this, we still celebrate Armistice Day, although we would call it Veteran’s Day. It’s been renamed in the US. Still November 11 for us, but no doubt an important hallmark for the planting season. What are producers thinking about right now? What are the considerations around planting decisions?

Stephen Page  4:41  

Well for the hay production side of things, look at the paddock look at the bill of history of the paddock hopefully they know what their soil tests are now with whether they need to be putting fertiliser down how much look at any issues that they may have with weed issues, and then also basically diversifying their risk. So if they have got an opportunity there where one paddock may be a little bit more prone to frost might be opportunities where you you take the stubble off and have the opportunity either go for grain if we have a good season and they want to go through to grain. Or then if they have an issue where they’re not going to have the moisture or that crop gets frosted, those crops then make extremely good hay. So have opportunity there where you can flick backwards and forwards between the two is a great opportunity to diversify those risks. You know, you need to be looking at your weed side of things your soil health and select what crop do you want to grow y’know do you want your oats to barley or wheat. Look at the beardless varieties because they have different markets. And also look at the shed space they’ve got. It’s no use, hay, if you’re going to be making hay, have shed space and have it but you can put it away because the market is not there every day. We feed cattle every day. But the market is not there every day. It’s not like a grain crop where you can drop it into one of the depots and you get paid for it. So they’re just issues you need to be thinking about. And look at what opportunities you’ve got in that.

Jon Paul Driver  6:28  

You mentioned about weed control. A quick note on herbicides right now, I’m not certainly not an Australian herbicide expert, I am licenced in my state. So I have some concept that there are herbicides that you can use on grain crops that you can’t use on forage crops. And there’s requirements for tracking those this is just a note to say, hey, remember that the herbicides that you use matter when you’re making your marketing plans? Is that fair?

Stephen Page  6:56  

Yes, that’s correct. And also if you are looking at export or domestic market, that can also change those chemicals that you’re applying. So that’s a big consideration to be looking at and talking to your agronomist about, I don’t want to really open up that can of worms on here today. Otherwise, we’ll be talking for a long time on what the issues are there. But yes, keep keep your records. Know the rates that you’re applying, know the dates that you’re applying. And you’ll find when you’re marketing your hay with Feed Central, every lot that we inspect, we expect the CVD, a commodity vendor declaration to be filled out with every lot. And our customers, our buyers require that to be with that lot. So we do not market any hay through our system without a commodity vendor declaration.

Jon Paul Driver  7:50  

Perfect. A good management practice. 

Stephen Page  7:52  

Yes, the majority of growers I’ve been speaking to recently, the actual amount going into hay this year is very similar. And certain regions are painting a little bit more. There is some competition out there in the hay market. And mainly in the Wimmera Mallee country, there’s a bit of competition with the lupins and lentils. So that’s pulling away from the amount of vetch that will be grown in those regions. On the other side is the canola price is back a little bit, though I think it has lifted a little bit this week, talking to growers, they are moving away from canola a little bit back into their cereal hay because of the price and marketing opportunities. And a lot of the growers I’m talking to the hay that they made last year, they’ve either it’s already gone out of their sheds, or it’s it’s committed in the sheds. So a lot of them are looking at filling those sheds again this coming season. So not seeing I think it’s going to I don’t think there’s going to be any it’s not a huge quantity moving towards hay or away from hay. So I think we’re just going to be in for the normal production season. With those issues going on.

Jon Paul Driver  9:06  

What’s the tone of export versus domestic?

Stephen Page  9:09  

The export markets very strong in South Australia, as you know. And those fellas will be competing again strongly for the hay incoming in this new season. So yes, they are there, the professional fellows that deliver into those areas, you know, extremely good at what they do and have big sheds and supply big quantities. But talking to one of the growers over there yesterday that you know quite well because we stayed at their place while we were there. Yeah. Their sheds are just about empty and that region in South Australia. They said earlier on, they didn’t get any rain. There’s no rain in that region in this last lot that came in through Easter. So they are really looking for a couple inches of rain. But yeah, talking to Corbin, they’re you know, basically going to start putting this grain out in that couple of weeks time, and just waiting for the rain so they’ll plant dry, and then just let the rain come in and they’ve actually had some rain earlier on, which has allowed them to get good control of their weeds. So they would have liked a little bit earlier, a little bit more now to do a spray to get get rid of any weed issues. But no, they’ll plant dry and then wait, the thing about planting dry, the hay has to be dry, the ground has to be dry enough to plant and not too wet to germinate. So yeah, it’s one of those balancing acts.

Jon Paul Driver  10:46  

I’m familiar with this concept, we call it dusting in. Or you can put the seed into the dust and I mean dry dry dirt, and then wait for the rains to come. But to your point. It has to be dusty dry to do that. Otherwise, yeah, that seed germinates gets just enough water to germinate and then you’re in trouble. 

Stephen Page  11:07  

Yeah, well, if you don’t get a follow up rain, then yeah, so you’ve got that situation, you can be too wet to dry sow and too dry to dry sow. So you’ve got to get that balance, right? Yes.

Absolutely. That’s a very different story than what I experienced because I was there in August. And there was still lots of 2022 Hay sitting in the sheds. When I was there in August of 23. And now you’re telling me that the 23 crop is pretty well gone? 

Yes. But there is still some of that damaged hay still out there in sheds, too. There are some situations where people are trying to sort of market that as last season’s hay, but it’s not it’s actually two years, you know, two years back and you can tell through your feed tests and also visual inspection, of course, that it’s not last season’s. We had, there was only a very small portion of last season’s hay that was actually damaged and that was more down in that southern Victoria area that greater, greater southern area of Victoria. They had a little bit of rain during that South Ballarat down through that area. They had a little bit of damage to their hay. But as we said previously in the other podcasts, it’s it’s been an extremely good season for hay production in majority of the areas.

Jon Paul Driver  12:26  

Well, is there any commentary around straw separate from hay?

Stephen Page  12:29  

No, they haven’t really discussed the straw, the straw fellas, the people I was talking to are a little bit concerned with the feedlots up in this Darling Downs region, like what they did last year, they went out and were very aggressive with buying local straw. And, and taking that and really, I don’t know, the fellas down south missed out on on their normal opportunity that they would do so to supply straw up onto the Darling Downs here. They’re being a little bit cautious at this stage. But we’re a long way off from making straw and it’s an opportunity type thing that you know that we can go with sort of later on. It’s not a big consideration at this time.

Jon Paul Driver  13:14  

One of my favourite things to ask about is equipment. What are you hearing about contractors and equipment supplies and maybe equipment pricing?

Stephen Page  13:23  

Just one fellow I was talking to yesterday was telling me that the Krone balers have gone up substantially in the last 12 months. And he’s very concerned with that; he was talking about $150,000 worth increase in price for a Krone eight-string baler. His rates haven’t risen in the last 12 to 18 months. And the amount of hay the amount of bales he’s been putting through those balers in the last three years has been difficult also for him. So and at the moment, he was telling me there’s 80 balers on the market at the moment so with very low sort of bale numbers on them. So there’s a lot of people obviously going away from being contractors or keeping balers in their sheds. So he feels that and there’s I know a number of contractors that have gone out of making hay. So I think really, if you are looking at using a contractor at the end of the season to make your hay really start looking now or talking to your existing contractor and making sure that you’ve got them; good preparation, get everything right, give yourself the most number of opportunities within the season to go. We’re very fortunate in Australia in that if you’ve got your paddocks ready, you can go either way. So if we have a wet season and they are talking about a wet season, so there’s potential good productivity coming along, and have that opportunity to be able to flick backwards and forwards if the need arises. And so either, you know, look to maybe making hay, but also your grain area have that set up so that you can potentially go back and make hay. If you don’t have the wet, if you don’t have the moisture, if there’s a late frost or whatever the growers I come across that are in that situation can do that are the most successful that I see around, and also spread your risk with, you know, I love a bit of vetch in the country. It’s a good rotation for your hay areas. I’m confident we are now coming in for another good season. We just need to get that good curing period and get it in the sheds again, and have those sheds ready. Make sure that they are set up, they’re clean, everything’s ready to put that hay into.

Jon Paul Driver  15:56  

Sounds like the voice of wisdom and experience. Stephen, thank you very much for your thoughts today. Again, I’ve been joined by Stephen Page, he’s the Grower Services Manager for Feed Central. Big thanks to our guests today for sharing valuable insights. This podcast is proudly presented by Feed Central. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes.


  • Tim Ford

    In 2002, Tim established Feed Central, leveraging over many years of professional hay and agricultural experience domestically and internationally. Tim was born and bred in the Riverina and has travelled extensively within domestically and internationally to learn more about hay and the national and international fodder markets. Tim is a sought-after media commentor on matters relating to the fodder industry and often advises corporate and family companies on hay procurement and marketing strategies. Tim advises all levels of government on matters relating to the industry and was a member of the Prime Minister’s Drought Task Force during the 2017 -2020 drought. Tim is both a strategist and innovator leveraging digital solutions to drive people and client centric solutions across the industry.

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