Over 2000 tonnes of molasses are currently being shipped to Australia from Vietnam, thanks to an AgForce initiative in response to urgent calls from cattle producers.
Central region director, John Baker, said the energy supplement, coming in containers rather than in bulk, was still two to three weeks off landing at Queensland ports.
The shipments will be offloading at Townsville and Brisbane, Mr Baker said, noting that the port at Bundaberg was set up for bulk handling.
“Bundaberg is for B doubles too,” he said. “At Townsville we can get road trains to the port.”
Mr Baker said the delivery had been prompted by calls from AgForce members in October hit with the news from normal channels that there was only two to three weeks of supply left.
“We inquired to see if we could bring any in from overseas,” Mr Baker said. “We eventually found one with import permits in place. Being in containers it’s a lot more expensive but at least it was available for people.”
Unlike previous molasses shipments AgForce has been involved in, graziers had to commit to taking what they’d ordered, which Mr Baker said had resulted in a drop in interest.
“We didn’t want to get in the space of dealing with importers and handling money – we’ve left it in the hands of private people to do.
“There have been dramas in the past when there’s been a lot of rain and the organiser has been stuck with a lot of molasses.
“Importers were very wary of getting back in that situation.”
The containerised molasses will have a price tag of $371/t plus GST and freight at Townsville, and $310 plus the extras at Brisbane.
“It’s more expensive but at least it’s available,” Mr Baker said. “The situation in our area is still dire. It doesn’t matter if there’s been showers of rain, people still need to supplement.”
The hotspot was an area from just north of Belyando Crossing down to Alpha, he said.
As far as the state government response to the latest shortage went, Mr Baker said while there hadn’t been an offer to underwrite the shipment, there had been indications that the import permit process would be sped up.
“I wouldn’t want them to push the biosecurity processes – it’s got to be done properly,” he said.
He hoped the government would extend its subsidy increase for the land freight component for grain and meal imports to the molasses shipments.
The drought forum held in Cloncurry in early October identified a need for a guaranteed supply of molasses, organised physically or virtually, thanks to ongoing supply uncertainty.
Quizzed in Blackall recently, Agriculture Minister, Mark Furner said a working group had been put together between his department and AgForce, which was going through the process of understanding what was involved to ensure growers didn’t run out in future.
”At this point in time we're allowing that process to occur so we know what's the best outcome in ensuring that isn't the case where we're running out of molasses.”
Mr Baker said he wasn’t sure whether it would be preferable for the government to get involved in private enterprise transactions.
“You can get to a situation where they’re doing too much and people get to rely on it,” he said.
“The frustrating bit is that there was very little warning this was about to happen.
“There have been calls for the government to buy out the overseas molasses contracts but by this stage, the orders have been filled and the molasses is gone.
“And you don’t want to interfere with private enterprise anyway – it upsets overseas customer relations.”
Mr Baker said a solution needed to involve on-selling contractors such as Graincorp, distributors and transporters, as the mills just crushed and sold the raw product.
“In a year like this, demand has been a heck of a lot higher than normal – somehow or other we need to get around this problem.”
He said producers making forward contracts were “absolutely” a good idea.