Western Australia produces excellent quality oaten hay and lucerne hay and this can be attributed to some of the best hay making conditions in Australia. WA oaten hay is highly regarded for its energy value, fibre content and palatability which makes it an ideal feed ration for ruminants.
Good colour, sugary taste, aroma and fine texture are critical for good animal performance.
In WA, hay is mechanically cut and conditioned, then quickly dried in the field before it is stacked and stored locally in large sheds.
Oaten hay in the south-west of WA is usually cut from October to November to provide new season's hay, whereas irrigated lucerne hay is usually cut for an extended period from October to February.
Quality assurance programs are in place within the export hay industry to ensure quality standards are maintained. Hay processing companies in WA also apply a grading system based upon nutritional value and this system is based on Australian Fodder Industry Association standards.
WA oaten hay is a preferred source of fodder for dairy cows, due to its high digestibility and palatability. High in water soluble carbohydrates at around 25%, it provides dairy cows with an instant source of energy that can be effectively utilised by the rumen microflora for high milk production and sustained live weight gain.
Price per tonne for oaten hay can have large differences between the cheapest hay to the more expensive high quality. Price will depend on hay quality, product specifications for specific markets and time of the year when hay is sold. Generally, lucerne hay sells at a premium compared to oaten hay and is sort after by the racehorse and dairy industry.
The value of WA’s export markets for hay from 2008/09 to 2011/12 averaged around A$342 per tonne free on board (FOB). At times, premium oaten hay has been sold for just over A$400 per tonne FOB.
Production of fodder and hay
Oaten hay is typically grown in the medium to high rainfall areas of the wheatbelt and export hay within a 250 kilometre radius of Perth. The main production areas are around Moora, York, Narrogin and Wagin.
Oaten hay crops tend to be grown in the high to medium rainfall districts (550-350mm) and irrigated lucerne hay in the very higher rainfall areas (850–550mm) of the south west and supplemented by irrigation. Oaten hay yields in WA can average around 4-6 tonnes per hectare and irrigated lucerne up to 17t/ha.
Hay production offers investors and growers with rotational benefits including significant weed control by cutting for hay. Hay can be used to 'clean' up the land and is an effective way of easing into primary production.
Hay also has the benefit that it is less prone to frost damage and waterlogging in some disticts compared to cereal grain crops.
Production costs range from $250-350/ha and yields of 4-6t/ha and have been attracting a export price, farm basis of around A$150-$200 per tonne over the last few years. Oaten hay has been a highly profitable business despite the risk associated with possible weather damage during the spring harvest.
Lucerne hay has a reduced risk of weather damage by being able to manage the timing of the cuts more strategically around weather forecast.
Occasionally in WA wheat crops can be cut for hay depending on the incident of frost which can cause no grain to be set. Wheat hay can be very similar to oaten hay but tends to be more opportunistic than oaten hay.
WA hay processors and exporters
Local hay processors and exporters include: