A farmer hand feeds hay to cattle on a drought-affected property at Parkes, NSW.

Hay supplies post not correct on government stockpiles claim

FactCheck September 27, 2019

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from September 5, 2018 by an Australian user detailing the impact of the nation’s drought on hay supplies.

A Facebook post from September 5, 2018, mentions the severe hay shortage facing drought-affected cattle farms and claims there are government stockpiles of the fodder awaiting export.

The post reads: “I was appalled to hear on the radio today a farmer’s advocate from Cassilis, NSW, explaining how devastating the drought is. Hay from South and Western Australia has been completely used, i.e. they’ve run out. Victoria is about to run out. When that goes there will be nothing to feed our breeding herds with so they will start to die.(disastrous for our farming industry) Hay can’t be imported as the risk of importing disease is way too high. WAIT FOR IT ..Our FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, (whoever that might be), has stockpiled over SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND TONNES of hay bales on our wharves which will shortly be shipped overseas to Asia to fulfill contracts and they will not release it to our farmers. But they are happy for you and I to dig deep into our own empty pockets to supply the farming community with all the help we can give them. The government contracts can be fulfilled by purchasing hay from New Zealand and other nations and sending to it to Asia, leaving our own disease free hay for our own farmers. Please share this to everyone you know and protest to your federal member to get this fixed ASAP.”

The post has generated more than 31,000 shares, more than 460 reactions and 200 comments.

The Analysis

AAP FactCheck examined the Facebook post from September 5, 2018 and found the issue of hay exports during a drought received coverage in the mainstream Australian media around that period. 

A report in The Australian newspaper on August 23, 2018 mentioned many of the issues touched on in the Facebook post. The Australian’s story said “hay from domestic suppliers in Victoria and South Australia have been drained” as was stated in the Facebook post. The newspaper report also said “there are massive sheds owned by commercial exporters crammed with top-quality hay, particularly in West­ern Australia and South Australia, destined for cattle feedlots, vast piggeries and intensive dairy sheds in Japan, China and Korea”.

The Australian’s report quoted Peter Saunders, “a farming leader from Cassilis in the parched upper Hunter Valley”. Mr Sanders called on the federal and NSW governments to release the export-bound hay to Australian farmers “given the exceptional circumstances”.

The Facebook post also correctly stated that “hay can’t be imported”. A Department of Agriculture document from February 2019 titled ‘Importing stockfeed’ states that “hay has never been imported into Australia. It has a high risk of introducing plant and animal pathogens, viable crop seed, insect pests and weeds”.

For the central claim the federal government “stockpiled” over 650,000 tonnes of hay bales to be “shipped overseas to Asia to fulfil contracts and they will not release it to our farmers”, AAP FactCheck sought comment from the peak industry body the Australian Fodder Industry Association.

Australian Fodder Industry Association chief executive John McKew described the claim that the federal government has stockpiles of export-bound hay as “spurious and untrue”. 

“I cannot imagine why our own government would be out there buying hay to export to other countries when we have approximately 20 exporters in the country to fulfil that obligation,” he told AAP FactCheck. “Our own federal government does not get into the business of buying product to export to other countries. The government sets the process and protocols and regulations around (exporting) but they don’t physically do that themselves.”

The 2018 report in The Australian quoted Mr McKew stating there was” 600,000 tonnes of hay stored by hay exporters – about 40 per cent held in WA and 35 per cent in SA – to be shipped in the next six months, was all to meet committed pre-­orders mainly from China and Japan”. 

Mr McKew told AAP FactCheck that “at any point in time hay exports represent about 10 per cent at best” of Australia’s total production.

The Verdict

Based on this evidence, AAP FactCheck found the claims in the 2018 Facebook post regarding hay supplies in Victoria and hay import laws were correct at the time of posting. The number of hay bales to be exported was near the 600,000 figure quoted in The Australian’s report. However the claim made in the post that the federal government had “stockpiled” hay bales is not correct. 

Mixture – The claim of the content is a mixture of accurate and inaccurate, or the primary claim is misleading or incomplete.

* AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

 First published September 27, 2019, 16:49 AEST

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