MANSFIELD farmers have been spared the feed crisis crippling Australia, with well-timed rain resulting in one of the best hay seasons seen in decades.
Hay contractors have been busy cutting, raking and baling as farmers scramble to make room in sheds that were barren just months earlier.
Twelve months ago, hay was being bought into the district from across the country, with many choosing to offload stock in an attempt to ride out the conditions.
Local producers were wondering what lay ahead when the Bureau of Meteorology forecast a long, dry summer – many predicting 2020 would be the hottest, and driest, on record.
All of Mansfield’s neighbour shires are government drought declared, with outrage initially building that Mansfield had not been included; especially when less than half of the average spring rainfall was received.
But luckily, weather has spared Mansfield the worst – and now record yields of hay are being baled.
“Two months ago, we were wondering if we could cut,” Jamie Beckingsale, head stock and station agent with Rodwell’s, said.
“We haven’t had a lot of rain – but we’ve had just enough rain, at just the right time, to grow a lot of grass.
“Some of the amounts of hay being cut are almost record levels – more bales per acre than ever before.
“Other parts of the country are either in the middle of drought, the middle of a bushfire, or both – we have been very lucky here.”
No one knows that more than Ken Skinner, who farms out past Walsh’s Airstrip.
Last year, he was looking for outside hay to feed his stock – this year, Ken has cut enough to last him the next two seasons.
“We’ve got a fair bit,” he said.
“1000 round bales – for us, compared to the last few years, this has been great.”
After running short, Ken made the decision to prepare early for 2019 – sowing additional pastures and investing in fertiliser.
We really needed hay for the winter – and we didn’t get much last year – so there were a couple of paddocks that we knew didn’t have a good stand of grass in it so we put in Italian Rye Grass, with the late season, to try and get something going,” he said.
“We added a bit of fertiliser, then fertilised again in the spring.
“It wasn’t just the season – though that’s certainly helped – but we’ve cut more land and spread more fertiliser.”
Shane Callahan, from Callahan Seed Brokers in Mansfield, is in the hay business.
Each year he buys and sells hay and seed not just within Australia, but also internationally.
For him, 2019 has also been a good season.
“In short, it’s been a fair hay season despite the drier than average spring,” he said.
“Well presented crops have yielded reasonably well, and there haven’t been too many interruptions during hay making, so people are pretty happy.”
Mr Callahan said it was all about when the rain fell, as opposed to how much.
“It’s the distribution of the rainfall and when it falls, as well as the temperature was important,” he said.
“We’ve had below average temperatures for October and November – so it was drier, but cooler, and the combination of the two has meant we have come through much better than areas to the north.”
In May this year Liberal member for Eildon, Cindy McLeish (MLA, Eildon), demanded the government explain why both Mansfield and Murrindindi shires had been excluded from drought status.
“We have farmers who are in dire straits, who are worrying about how to pay the bills,” she said at the time.
“They have dwindling incomes and they worry about the next month.”
Although things have improved since then, Mansfield VFF president, James Tehan, said summer was still going to prove a challenge for locals.
“We have been very fortunate, we have been blessed with September rain,” he said.
“Our stocks were very depleted – but now we have a good supply of fodder going into an unknown summer.
“But a lot of farmers around the area have said that their dams aren’t full – some of the lower country, because it’s had no run off, has dams that don’t look good.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen dams look this dry after spring.”
Despite that, Mr Tehan said he was grateful for every bale.
He knows that whatever the next few months bring, Mansfield farmers have fared better than most – with hay sheds full and pasture to graze.