AFTER a below average season, a dry finish to harvest, a frost and a recent hay shed fire, Luke Bairstow of Arizona Farms near Lake Grace is trying to put 2018 behind him.
The mixed cropping and cattle producer suffered a hay shed fire that started in November and had been smouldering for weeks.
It destroyed the $135,000, built-for-purpose hay shed, although two adjoining water tanks were saved.
Mr Bairstow said about 2500 tonnes of “good quality oaten hay” – or “three quarters” of his 1000 hectare hay crop for the season was lost in the blaze.
“It took four weeks to burn,” Mr Bairstow said.
“The shed stayed up enough to contain the fire.
“We were a bit lucky.
“But after the season we just didn’t need it.”
He said the hay was so dense that the fire took its time to work through it.
It has been estimated the fire caused $1 million in damage.
Replacing the “decent sized” shed would cost about $160,000 due to the rise in the costs since it was first built.
While the hay was insured Mr Bairstow was concerned about the lack of hay available to replace his losses.
He said with low yields in the area and other producers having faced a tough season as well, plus hay being exported or sent east, finding enough quality hay to feed out to his 1600 head of Angus breeders over summer would pose a problem.
“The yields have been down,” he said.
“There’s not much surplus hay around but there’s a fair amount of straw being baled by the looks of it.”
Mr Bairstow said he would be sending the new season weaners off to the Mt Barker saleyards in the next few weeks, which would hopefully fetch reasonable prices if the market holds firm, and would assist in paying for all the work that needed doing to cope with the summer season.
He said Arizona Farms had a cattle feedlot in which grain would be fed to the stock to prepare the cattle for market.
The biggest problem to tackle will be the lack of water in his dams, after only receiving two millimetres of rain in September and not much since.
“Water will be the big issue,” he said.
“Stock water will be an even bigger problem than feed.”
He said there was water in the larger dams but there had been a lack of run off and so there would need to be some work done to pump from dam to dam.
“The best thing that could happen is to get some summer rains,” he said.
“We’ve just got a bit of work to do to get the dams ready.”
Mr Bairstow is positive that 2019 will turn out better than last year.
“You’ve got to be positive,” he said.
Narrogin hay processors Ballard’s Hay also suffered a fire in the processing facility last month which caused about $2.5 million in damages and will impact their business for the next 10 months, according to owner Geoff Ballard.
The 15-year-old family business operates hay and straw processing equipment to support the export industry – servicing regular clients in South East Asia, and feedlots in China, Japan and Korea.
Mr Ballard said the hay processing machine was able to be saved from the fire while the straw machine was lost.
“It is certainly a disruption to exporters,” Mr Ballard said.
“It’ll be 10 months till it is replaced.”
There were also a significant number of hay bales lost in the blaze.
Despite the damages and the impact on the business they were still able to operate by processing hay produced on farm or bought from other producers.
Mr Ballard said hay prices ranged from $220-$320 a tonne, while straw was $100-$110 per tonne – although there were additional costs for freight and port processing fees when exporting.
Mr Ballard operates the business with one of his sons, employing up to 12 people – including backpackers (some of these staff have had to be let go until the straw machine is replaced).
Mr Ballard said while they knew where the fire started it was a “mystery” as to how it happened because there was nothing in the area that could have caused it.