Weather radar stations for western NSW ‘game changers’ for farmers

Three new weather stations in the western region of New South Wales have been labelled as “game changers” by farmers.

Work has started on a new weather station in Brewarrina, which will provide more detailed forecasts.

The other two will be based at Parkes and in the Hillston-Ivanhoe area, and each will cover an area of about 200 square kilometres.

“At the moment there is a significant gap where western NSW communities have had limited access to real-time weather information, but I am thrilled that work has now begun to build this critical infrastructure,” said Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

“The radars will be able to detect raindrops, hail, bushfire plumes, rain intensity, and wind velocity — vastly improving real-time weather services for the community.

“The radars will boost business efficiency by providing rainfall data as well as wind observations to primary producers and regional communities, providing critical information for producers to base farm management decisions on.”

Susie Rae and her husband, who run a property near Narromine, said weather forecasts were hit and miss because of a lack of data.

“We watch the weather every day and for as long as I can remember there’s a big blank spot in the west.

“There’s literally a line when we look at the radar of a part that just doesn’t even exist.”

Rain on the plains
More accurate weather data is critical around harvest time.(ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

New data online in time for harvest

Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Adam Marshall said the Brewarrina Doppler radar would be operational by October.

“These radars will be a game changer; providing greater accuracy in measuring where water particles are in the sky, how fast they are moving and the potential power of an incoming storm,” he said.

Experts will be able to pass on vital weather observations from up to 200km away, including towns as far as Cobar, Pilliga and over the Queensland border.”

Ms Rae said that would be critical for this year’s harvest; the first after three years of drought.

“If this is finished by harvest that will be crucial and if we can see what storms are coming, it will help with everything.”

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History for sale as Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer’s football treasures go to auction

When the sporting treasures of Australian football pioneer Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer arrived at Melbourne’s Abacus Auctions a few months ago, it was inevitable there would be something unique among the carefully packed items.

The eyes of auctioneer Max Williamson were immediately drawn to an eye-catching gold medal with a map of Australia on the face, each state marked by its own coloured enamel outline. Every bit as distinctive as the man who won it, it was the 1956 Tassie medal claimed by Farmer as the best player in the 1956 Interstate carnival.

Brownlows, Magareys and Sandovers have hit the auction market at increasing rates in the past few decades (Farmer’s trio of the latter are now up for grabs too), but Williamson believes Polly’s is the first Tassie to be offered.

The Hall of Fame Legend won it en route to claiming his first WAFL premiership and Sandover medals that year, achievements which confirmed his rise to pre-eminence.

An image of AFL best and fairest medals.
Farmer’s playing medals are set to go under the hammer, including his 1956 Tassie medal (top left).(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

Now it is Lot 272 in Abacus’s July 25 auction, with a pre-sale estimate of $20,000. It and 119 other lots of the Indigenous football legend’s treasured items could net the Farmer family more than $100,000.

A medal of the Order of the British Empire.
Farmer’s 1971 Member of the Order of the British Empire Medal also forms part of the collection.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

The haul includes premiership and best and fairest medals from Farmer’s days at Geelong, East Perth and West Perth, plus his Simpson medals and his MBE — the first awarded to an active player.

Williamson says that having made the long journey across from Perth for the sale, it’s likely that several key items will take a return trip, as Western Australian collectors look to secure everything from cufflinks, trophies and scrapbooks, to a crystal jug presented to Farmer on the occasion of his 300th Western Australian Football League game.

Photographs on the block include the unforgettable shot of Farmer handpassing a ball across a road and through the partly-open window of a Holden HR station wagon, taken during Geelong’s premiership year of 1963.

A black and white photo of a man handballing an AFL ball through a car window.
The 1963 shot of Farmer handpassing a ball through a partly opened car window is on the block.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

Even Hawthorn and Richmond supporters are catered for, although the items in question pose a painful ‘what if’: they are letters from both clubs, dated mid-1961, enticing Farmer to play for them and not the Cats.

A framed photograph of Graham 'Polly' Farmer standing with a ball in his hand.
A framed photograph of Farmer in 1963, as Geelong Football Club’s Best and Fairest.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

“It’s like a biography, really.

“Polly was a member of the Stolen Generation and he grew up in a children’s home, and it was important to the family that his entire history was told.

“So, there are documents relating to that in the sale.”

Even before this auction, Farmer was a significant figure in the world of sports memorabilia.

Of the increasingly prized 1963 Scanlens footy card set, Farmer’s card is the most valuable because of its scarcity.

Urban myth has it that Polly’s card was on the bottom corner of the large sheet from which the manufacturer cut the cards; when the blade came down it took off too much at the edge and quality controllers discarded the imperfect Pollys.

Trend of legends selling

The Farmer auction continues a trend for grand clearances of items associated with sporting legends.

An image of a black and yellow WAFL jersey, with a swan on the front.
A Western Australian football guernsey that belonged to Farmer.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

The sale that kicked things off for Williamson was Shirley Strickland’s items.

In recent decades, other greats to clear out the trophy room include Ron Barassi, Greg Chappell, Len Thompson, Greg Williams and Mark Waugh.

“We get excited when we get a player’s own collection, whether it’s a footballer, a cricketer or an Olympian,” Williamson says.

Beyond the superannuation bump, the reasons for living superstars parting with their treasures are many and varied, from downsizing to divorce.

Posthumous sales are often a relief for families looking to simplify the division of estates while finding loving homes for important pieces of sporting history that would otherwise languish in safety deposit boxes and sock drawers.

In Australia, ‘celebrity’ sales still err more on the side of tastefulness, or at least lovable naffness (the Bob Hawke and Russell Crowe auctions tested this theory) than the naked opportunism of the American market; at the Jackie Kennedy sale of 1996, Sotheby’s took eleven loose diamonds worth no more than $500, arranged them in the shape of a ‘J’ and coaxed bidders up to $17,250.

On the buying side of sales like the Farmer one, private collectors dominate the field at the best of times.

A black and white photo of a mens AFL team.
Farmer (middle row, centre) and members of the 1961 Western Australian team in Brisbane, where they won their first interstate carnival since 1921.(Supplied: Abacus Auctions)

Now, institutional investment in sports memorabilia looks like taking a further hit as a casualty of COVID-19 austerities.

Leagues, clubs and museums are carefully watching the bottom line — not to mention insurance premiums.

Rare are the benefactors like former Essendon chairman Paul Little, who purchased Barassi’s entire collection in a pre-sale deal so that it wasn’t split up and scattered around the country. But even that sale highlighted an obstacle for bulk buyers: to date, there has been no decision on how and where the Barassi haul will be displayed. Curation, storage, security and maintenance are additional costs that many holders of sporting gems aren’t keen to bear.

Williamson is now in his sixth decade selling sports memorabilia, having started out in stamps.

In the early days of the industry, he says, cricket was the dominant field of collecting, and at the higher end remains so.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks are still the linchpin of many a collection, although the market is softening due to older collectors completing their sets and not being replaced by a new generation of enthusiasts. Similar can be said of baggy green caps, which have flooded the market in recent decades; many serious collectors have now ticked them off the bucket list.

The auction is expected to fetch up to a million dollars.
The baggy green cap worn by Sir Donald Bradman during 1948 was bought for over $400,000.(ABC TV)

Like most auctioneers, there is not much Williamson won’t sell.

The Farmer items appear in a catalogue which contains, among other curios, Greg Chappell’s MBE (estimate: $1200), Bruce Reid’s kit bag, the saddlecloth from Americain’s 2010 Melbourne Cup victory, and a baggy green cap whose appearance shatters certain modern myths about the Australian Test cap: it is signed inside “To Keith, Many Thanks, Steve Waugh”, and was presented by the former captain to a WACA dressing room steward.

Perhaps the scarcest item in the sale relates to another Aboriginal sporting champion, Eddie Gilbert, the 1930s fast bowler who rattled Bradman.


Gilbert’s signature, vanishingly rare, is available at the bottom of a hand-written note on Barambah Aboriginal Settlement letterhead.

Williamson says autograph sheets and books from Gilbert’s time in the Queensland team rarely contain the fast bowler’s scribble, and hypothesises that it probably reflects prejudices of the time — he thinks schoolchildren, then the predominate autograph hunters, must have been advised not to approach Gilbert.

Like all auctioneers, Williamson always hopes for the appearance of something truly unique and sacred, like Monty Noble’s 1909 Ashes urn, which he sold for $80,000 in 2017, or the time he auctioned the late John Kennedy Snr’s ancient Hawthorn jumper. The Hawks were aghast when they got wind of the latter sale. It couldn’t possibly be Kennedy’s, they said: he’d worn only one for his entire career.

To clarify the matter, Hawthorn’s most revered figure showed up at the sale rooms, held the woollen relic against his chest and ran his fingers over the front. It was the Real McCoy; Kennedy could feel the St. Christopher medal his mother had sewn inside the jumper to protect her boy. Now it resides in Hawthorn’s museum.

“When you’re a collector, it’s all about the thrill of the hunt,” Williamson concludes.

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Future Drought Fund’s first round of spending for farmers announced by Federal Government

The Federal Government has revealed how it will spend the first round of its $5 billion Future Drought Fund, designed to help farmers better prepare for dry times.

This round of money will assist farmers to become more financially savvy, while also funding better climate data information, research and development, and natural resource management.

Federal Agriculture and Drought Minister David Littleproud said the Government would allocate $20 million to help farmers develop and improve their business plans.

Mr Littleproud said refining financial literacy will work together with investment in a climate data service.(Supplied: David Littleproud)

“But our job as a Government using Australian taxpayers’ money is to give our farmers the very best tools possible to make them even more profitable.”

The Future Drought Fund was first announced in 2018 and allows the government of the day to provide $100 million each year for preparedness and so-called resilience programs.

Mr Littleproud said “refining farmers’ financial literacy” would work together with a $10 million dollar investment in a new, online climate data service, tailored to farmers’ needs.

He said the digital platform would provide “regional specific climate data” to allow farmers to make “real time decisions that gets them ahead of drought rather than behind it”.

Looking through a barbed wire fence to desolate paddocks as trees are pummelled by wind. Dust haze on horizon paints out the sky
Wind is blowing topsoil away and farmers fear it will take years for some landscapes to recover.(ABC News: Lucy Barbour)

The announcement comes after a Government-appointed committee, headed by former National Farmers’ Federation president Brent Finlay, conducted a six-week tour of rural communities to find out how farmers wanted the Future Drought Fund spent.

“This is not about whittling away money,” Mr Littleproud said.

“We as Australian taxpayers have a proud record of having a safety net, and that’s what we provide to not only Australian farmers but to the individuals out there to have a safety net when things don’t go your way.”

Farmers welcome climate data spend

Wool grower Oliver Kay, who farms at Bungarby in southern New South Wales, questioned whether money should be spent teaching farmers how to develop business plans.

“Farmers should be doing that themselves already, that’s just a no brainer,” he said.

“So there’s no excuse for any farm business not to have clear plans for the path based on what’s happened previously.”

But Mr Kay welcomed the investment in an online climate data information service, which would likely draw on information from the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, and the Department of Agriculture.

Another $20 million dollars will be spent on drought research and development, and $15 million on natural resource management.

That could include grants for individuals and farmer groups to improve their local landscapes by maintaining ground-cover and improving soils.

South Australian pastoralist Gillian Fennell said the Government had “done business plans to death” and would have preferred to see money spent on improving farm and town water infrastructure.

“There’s no amount of business planning that will help you get rain out of the sky and help you get water onto your crop or your cattle or sheep,” she said.

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Farmers demand ACCC inquiry into chicken industry

A major investigation into the chicken meat industry will be launched next month, against a backdrop of accusations that a buyer duopoly, corporate takeovers and supermarket price pressures are driving family farms off the land.

It comes as seven family-owned and operated chicken farms in northern NSW will go belly up this week, even though Australians eat twice as much chicken as beef and pork and six times more than lamb.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission will ­review the chicken meat industry between July and December, to ­investigate claims the nation’s two big chicken companies – Baiada and Inghams – are abusing their power over farmers.

In NSW, a decade ago there were six major chicken companies who contracted farmers to grow their birds, but now Baiada dominates the state, with a company called Cordina a minor player.

Seven family-owned chicken farms will lose their business this week. Picture: Mark Cranitch

Chicken farmer and father-of-six, Jeremy Cruickshank, 45, has four huge but empty sheds on his farm near Casino, after Inghams collected the last of his 120,000 birds last week as part of Ingham’s complete exit from producing chickens in NSW.

After 13 years of growing chickens on his farm, Mr Cruickshank will this week look for a new job in town while he sells parcels of his property to service his debts.

There are no longer any chicken processing plants close enough to the Northern Rivers region to sustain the 12 chicken farms that lost contracts in the past year.

The blow to Mr Cruickshank’s business has devalued his farm by 45 per cent, which spooked the banks off lending him enough money to retrofit his sheds for growing an ­alternative crop such as mushrooms.

“We have been left high and dry with assets and infrastructure worth a lot of money that are now more of a liability,” Mr Cruickshank said.

Chicken farmers Jeremy and Jess Cruikshank with their children Noah, 13, Tom, 3, Byron, 4, and Jack, 12. Picture Elise Derwin

Chicken farmers Jeremy and Jess Cruikshank with their children Noah, 13, Tom, 3, Byron, 4, and Jack, 12. Picture Elise Derwin

“I didn’t realise you could invest so much money into a business only for the chicken processors to turn around and say ‘we don’t need you anymore, so your multimillion-dollar investment is worth nothing’.

“My parents, who are nearly in their 80s, own half of this operation and were hoping to retire off what we made from poultry, but now there’s no income and the place has been devalued.

“I have kids keen to get into agriculture but … I don’t want them to, because when it comes to the family farm I don’t see a viable future.”

The big chicken companies are increasingly turning to corporate growing services, funded by superannuation firms, that grow tens of millions of chickens a year far cheaper than a family farm. Chicken farmers struggle to sell their farms, which are only worth the land value without a contract, ­because corporate firms offer more favourable terms to the processors.

A chicken processing industry source said market volatility like the huge spike in the cost of grain during the state’s worst ever drought has forced the major chicken companies to favour corporate growers.

Chicken farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Picture: Generic image

Chicken farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Picture: Generic image

While farmers make huge investment in their sheds, which require constant upkeep to meet regularly revised animal welfare standards, chicken companies are exposed to the lion’s share of risk such as supermarket wars over the price of a barbecue chook.

There is no suggestion chicken companies have failed to honour contracts, but farmers have complained it is not possible to negotiate a fair deal because farmgate prices and payment terms are kept secret through nondisclosure agreements.

“Chicken growers are getting torn to pieces and handing ticking time bombs to their kids,” NSW Farmers president James Jackson said.

“Growers have to accept whatever price the processor offers them, because the processor knows no one else is making an offer.”

The big supermarkets were just as much to blame for the demise of family-owned chicken farms as the chicken companies themselves, ­according to Mr Jackson.

“I don’t really blame the processors (such as Baiada and Inghams), who are under extreme pressure by the supermarkets,” he said.

“Domestically consumed perishables like milk and poultry, where there’s no international market, are beholden to the supermarkets.”

The Cruikshank family have no income coming through from their chicken farm. Picture: Elise Derwin

The Cruikshank family have no income coming through from their chicken farm. Picture: Elise Derwin

Neither Baiada or Inghams would comment on the allegations of anti-competitive behaviour.

A Baiada spokesman said: “We do not wish to pre-empt the inquiry before it commences and so would prefer not to comment on the inquiry.”

An Inghams spokeswoman said: “We would never pre-empt the regulator and will make no comment until we have greater clarity of their concerns.”

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson cheered the ACCC review.

However she urged federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to launch a more comprehensive inquiry into the industry with powers to compel chicken companies and supermarkets to disclose their bargaining practices.

NSW Farmers, Victorian Farmers Federation and the National Farmers’ Federation want a mandatory code of conduct, similar to one recently applied to the dairy industry.

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Cost of agriculture university courses to halve, National Farmers Federation praises policy as ‘commonsense’

Future agriculture graduates could hold the key to helping the industry achieve its goal of being worth $100 billion by 2030.

The Federal Government recently announced that agriculture students would pay 62 per cent less for their degrees from next year, a move that the National Farmers Federation (NFF) said highlights the value of the agriculture sector.

“It really seems like a commonsense announcement by the Federal Government to reduce the course fees for subjects, particularly in the agriculture-related disciplines,” said NFF president Fiona Simson.

“NFF has a very strong vision for the future of agriculture in Australia.

Ms Simson said it was disappointing to see a drop-off in some agriculture courses, but she hoped the fee reduction would turn those trends around.

“I’m confident that we’ll see a flood of students back to some of those disciplines,” she said.

With the rise of technology within the industry, Ms Simson says now is a prime opportunity to look at jobs of the future.

“This lessening of course fees of about 62 per cent is really going to go a long way to making sure we can keep bringing the best and brightest into agriculture.

“People are a really important pillar of that vision.”

Increased demand expected

Southern Cross University (SCU) director of strategic projects, Lorraine Gordon, said it was one of the best policy decision she has seen in a long time with the Government finally recognised the role played by agriculture.

“And us being able to equip students in those regenerative practices that also look after the environment while we produce food.”

Ms Gordon says the Government’s higher education plan is one of the best policy decisions she has seen.(Supplied: SCU)

Ms Gordon said that SCU has been on the forefront in meeting future employment and industry needs and this year launched a regenerative agriculture degree.

“We had over 100 students come in this year, and we hadn’t even hit the school system so that already puts us as the biggest ag course in the country,” she said.

While agriculture-related courses will decrease in cost by more than half, the cost of studying humanities degrees will double.

Brigid Heywood, the Vice Chancellor of the University of New England, said an increase or decrease in fees should not sway students’ career aspirations.

“To anybody that values education, and I think that’s all young people coming forward, now is not the moment to step away,” Ms Heywood said.

“They should continue with their plans, they should step-up and step-in, and they need to have conversations with their university of choice.

How much students can expect to pay:

Band Discipline Annual cost
1 Teaching, clinical psychology, English, maths, nursing, languages, agriculture $3,700
2 Allied health, other health, architecture, IT, creative arts, engineering, environmental studies, science $7,700
3 Medical, dental, veterinary science $11,300
4 Law & economics, management & commerce, society & culture, humanities, communications, behavioural science $14,500

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Protect farmers by protecting bees

THE co-inventor of Flow Hive has signalled more needs to be done to protect the environment on World Environment Day.

“The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature.

“But the exciting thing is that there are so many tiny actions all of us can do to play a part in protecting bees and all the little pollinators that give us life,” said Cedar Anderson, co-inventor of the Flow Hive.

“Protecting bees is not just the job of beekeepers — we all have a role, and it can start in our own backyards.”

“I want everyone to realise how interconnected we humans and animals are,” he continued.

“Over the past 15 years, global bee populations have been declining rapidly, largely due to climate change, pollution and pesticides.

“This worrying trend continues today despite the fact that bees are responsible for pollinating 30 percent of the world’s food crops and 90 percent of the world’s plants.

“Without bees, human life as we know it wouldn’t be sustainable.”

Flow, the company behind the Flow Hive, has highlighted that the recent disruptions in our food chain of favourites like avocados and coffee are indicative of the dangers to pollinators.

“Without pollinators, we’d have to say goodbye to almonds, many vegetables, fruit and even beef supplies would be affected since cattle rely on pollinated plants for food.

“We simply cannot pretend it is business as usual in the face of an existential threat to our way of life. Flow asks that people around the world think of some of the creatures hardest hit, such as bees, by climate change, and whose demise will have particularly dire consequences on all life on this planet,” he said.

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European canola buyers demand Australian farmers stop using legal chemical omethoate

European canola buyers have ordered Australian farmers to stop using an insecticide on their crops if they want to keep selling into the market.

Farmers fear it is the first step to banning a range of chemicals, such as glyphosate, which are legal in Australia but not accepted in Europe.

One peak farming body said the move could breach international trade rules.

Last week, WA grain company Cooperative Group Handling (CBH) Group wrote to growers telling them to stop using omethoate if they had signed up to a European accreditation scheme that gave canola producers a premium.

It angered local farmers because omethoate, used most commonly to kill red-legged earth mite, is legal and approved for use by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

APVMA reviewed omethoate in 2016 and banned it from being used in home gardens and on some horticulture crops, but allowed its continued use for red-legged earth mite.

“Omethoate is approved for use in Australia and is safe to use according to the updated label instructions,” an APVMA spokeswoman said.

Le Mat is the commercial name for omethoate, and its label says it can be used on pastures, cereals such as wheat and oilseeds such as canola.

Scheme created to ensure supply

Europe is the largest buyer of Australian canola, most of which comes from WA and South Australia.

The European Union prefers non-genetically modified (GM) canola, giving Australia an edge over its biggest competitor, Canada, which grows only GM canola.

WA’s canola exports are worth about $800 million a year and almost all sold by CBH group.

Le Mat is considered better for the environment than other alternative insecticides.(ABC News: Clint Jasper)

For about a decade, CBH has encouraged growers to become accredited under the EU’s International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) scheme, it currently offers a $10 a tonne premium for canola grown under this program.

It was designed to help the EU meet a renewable energy directive.

CBH said most WA canola growers were ISCC-accredited, requiring them to declare they meet requirements such as safe chemical use and good soil management practices.

When it first promoted the scheme to its grower members, CBH offered a $5-per-tonne premium.

‘We are forced to listen to them’

The letter sent to ISCC-accredited growers last week said omethoate, known as Le Mat, must not be used anywhere on the farm this season for crops already planted.

However, CBH has since admitted this information was incorrect.

But the company said ISCC accreditation required growers to prove they planned to phase out the use of Le Mat by 2023.

CBH spokesman Trevor Lucas said meeting the requirements were essential to being able to sell to the EU, and asked farmers to let them know if they were using Le Mat this season and whether they planned to phase it out.

“We understand growers’ concerns about not being able to use omethoate, but the European market is extremely important for WA growers; we have been selling grain there for 10 years under ISCC accreditation,” Mr Lucas said.

“It’s a market-access requirement.”

APVMA bans use of omethoate on canola and other food crops
Australia has banned the use of omethoate on food crops.(ABC Esperance: Tara De Landgrafft)

Could a glyphosate ban be next?

WA Farmers grains spokesman Mark Fowler said members had strong objections to the move and it could be classified as a trade barrier.

“What was introduced as a $5 premium for selling canola is now something akin to a trade barrier,” Mr Fowler said.

He said most grain traders would not buy canola that was not ISCC-accredited.

“We will not accept that.”

ISCC has been contacted for comment.

Last year, CBH introduced the same ISCC accreditation for barley and shipped the first load of the “sustainable barley” to Vietnam in April.

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ABARES says weather conditions improve but prices fall for farmers amid coronavirus fallout

As damaging as COVID-19 has been for Australian agriculture, the drought continues to have a bigger impact on farm economic output, according to new data released by ABARES. 

Australia’s agricultural commodity forecaster said the sector’s biggest challenge would be recovery from drought, but coronavirus impacts would cause prices to fall.

The ABARES June commodities report indicated farm production values would be $61 billion, the third year above $60 billion.

Chief analyst Peter Gooday said widespread rain had helped the grains industry increase in value by 15 per cent to $30.8 billion.

For livestock, the rebound from drought looked different, with better conditions expected to encourage herd and flock rebuilding.

“We’re expecting livestock slaughter to fall and the value of livestock production to come down by about 10 per cent to just above $30 billion which ends a very strong run of growth for livestock, but after three years of drought we do need some rebuilding,” he said.

Red meat prices a bright point

Meanwhile, Mr Gooday said livestock prices went against the trend for most other commodities due to offshore factors including African swine fever still driving high protein demand in Asia.

“At home, we are also seeing good demand from re-stockers expecting to keep saleyard prices high,” he said.

“Saleyard cattle value is forecast to increase in price by four per cent and saleyard mutton up one per cent.”

Oil prices impacting other commodities

Mr Gooday said wool, sugar and oilseeds were all being flagged as industries that could expect to continue to take price hits due to low global oil prices.

“In wool, you get a demand impact because synthetic fibres are a lot more attractive than natural fibres,” he said.

“There is a similar thing happening for sugar and oilseeds with Brazil canegrowers pushing cane into sugar production with ethanol demand low.”

“That will be pushing the price of sugar down pretty significantly,” he said.

Mr Gooday said people were also substituting out of vegetable oils as the price of oil falls.

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Barramundi farmers who gave away free fish during coronavirus lockdown urge consumers to support them

Barramundi farmers are appealing to consumers to eat more Australian-grown barramundi, with some facing a shortage of space as demand dries up and fish keep growing.

Like many industries, the country’s barramundi farmers took a hit when the restaurant and cafe trade closed in March due to coronavirus restrictions.

At Coral Coast Barramundi at Bowen in north Queensland, about 1 million barramundi fingerlings are grown every year by a team of staff and marine biologists, to stock dams for anglers and supply the food service industry.

Farm manager Justin Forrester said while the cooler winter conditions did slow the growth of barramundi, there was still a looming deadline.

“We can try to slow them down so they fit in the ponds, but eventually they keep growing and the ponds have only got so much space, so much electricity, and so much room, to keep the fish healthy and in good condition,” Mr Forrester said.

The aquaculture operation usually harvests about 25 tonnes of fish from the ponds every week but, when the food service industry closed under coronavirus restrictions, demand dropped to about 8 tonnes per week.

The drop in demand also meant a drop in available work for staff, some of whom have worked at the site for years.

Barramundi farmers are calling on consumers to buy more Aussie barramundi.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

At Australia’s largest barramundi farm, at Humpty Doo near Darwin, farm manager Dan Richards said they were not short on space but the pandemic had had a big impact on their bottom line.

Free fish to those in need

Even at the height of the coronavirus crisis, there has been generosity and kindness from people and businesses.

Mr Richards said when their team saw the impacts of the virus on the community, they were looking for ways to help.

a barramundi being held by a man in a hat.
Humpty Doo Barramundi owner Dan Richards.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

Humpty Doo Barramundi donated about 10,000 kilograms of fish, which was used in food hampers and prepared meals for people in need in major cities.

“[We chose to donate] where people were looking to support the people in the food service industry who were out of jobs and the like,” he said.

“We’ve really seen that as an area that’s part of our core business and people who we can really support at this time.”

Coral Coast Barramundi also donated fish, working locally to donate to healthcare workers at hospitals in the region.

Now, they’re hoping consumers will return the favour, as Mr Forrester says he hopes to never see a crash in the market like this again.

“We’re going to hopefully come out the other side,” he said.

“If Aussies get behind us, buy a little more farmed barramundi, we’ll definitely, hopefully, get across the line.”

‘Get out and buy barramundi’

Owner of Coral Coast Barramundi and president of the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association Ken Chapman believes the best thing to help right now would be for more Australians to buy Aussie-grown barramundi.

While there is a roadmap for the gradual reopening of restaurants as restrictions ease around the country, it’s not enough for an immediate increase in demand.

“We haven’t seen any change as yet, we’re hopeful that [we’ll] come back with strength as the year progresses,” Mr Chapman said.

While barramundi is a recognised Australian species, most of the fish available in Australia is foreign.

Half eaten battered Barramundi on a wooden board and with a few chips
More than half of the barramundi sold in Australia is imported from Asia.(ABC Capricornia: Inga Stünzner)

Mr Chapman hopes consumers will look at where the barramundi comes from and support Australian-grown.

Woolworths said since 2018, it had doubled the volume of fresh Australian barramundi it sold and was the largest retail seller of the fresh fish.

Coles did not respond to the ABC.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm or on iview.

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