WITH its ability to produce a hay crop in around a month, could the Ord River region in remote northern Western Australia be the solution to eastern Australia’s current fodder crisis?
It has generally been thought that the cost of freight would be too prohibitive, however rail freight expert and former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer believes the sums could work.
“I am calling for immediate Government funding for a feasibility study into bringing fodder from Katherine south to intermodal freight hubs at Horsham, in Victoria and Parkes, in NSW,” Mr Fischer said.
“This could be one solution to help manage snap drought events such as what is happening now, where a shortage of fodder has emerged very quickly – there just isn’t the hay available in other areas.”
While the scheme sounds ambitious at face value, Mr Fischer said the core requirements to make such a scheme work were already there.
“There is the mainline rail capacity and given that most of the freight on the Adelaide-Darwin line is currently going south to north there are the containers available to load and bring back south,” he said.
In terms of rail access, Mr Fischer said the trains would go through Adelaide to Horsham or turn off at the east-west rail corridor at Crystal Brook, in South Australia’s Mid North, which runs all the way to Parkes in NSW’s Central West.
“Once the fodder arrives in the south both Horsham and Parkes have intermodal freight hubs which would make distributing the fodder from there relatively easy,” he said.
He said there would be a large initial road freight component in bringing the fodder from the Ord to Katherine, but added he felt it could be done cheaply enough to make the hay price competitive in southern markets, especially at times of drought premiums in the south.
The Ord produces significant tonnages of Rhodes grass hay.
While Rhodes grass can be a problem weed in tropical and sub-tropical regions, Mr Fischer said the climatic differences between the Ord and Victoria would be enough to ensure there is not a problem in terms of an invasive weed outbreak.
Utilizing northern Australian resources, subject to different weather patterns than the majority of the nation’s fodder producing belt, could be a means of providing a level of drought proofing livestock industries if the freight costs can be managed.
Mr Fischer has significant experience in the nation’s freight industry, having conducted a review into Victoria’s rail freight system and is considered a leading authority on issues in the field.