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Hay producer flat out keeping up with demand

GREEN GOLD: Warwick’s Dick Bates is selling square bales of lucerne as fast as he can cut them.
GREEN GOLD: Warwick’s Dick Bates is selling square bales of lucerne as fast as he can cut them. Toni Somes

AS RETIREMENT ventures go, Warwick hay maker Dick Bates figures his first month of ownership could have been an omen.

In 2010 the local opted out of a transport business to try his hand in a "semi-retirement" sense in the rural sector.

"I bought a block on the Condamine on December 18, 2010. By January 8, the whole lot was under water," he said.

It's a good time to be in hay; there are certainly a lot of people looking for it at the moment as paddock feed runs out.

While it wasn't the start the good-natured businessman hoped for, he willed himself to see the positives.

"The fences weren't that great when I purchased the place so I figured having to replace them wasn't the worst thing that could happen."

But he wasn't as keen on replanting the 20-25 acres of prime lucerne he had had growing along the banks of the river, within a few kilometres of the heart of the Rose City.

"You do what you have to do though, don't you? The water was up to the sheds so we lost a whole lot of lucerne."

He's had more water over his cultivation in the years since and lost a few new fences but remains an optimist.

"The really good thing is the water table is not far below the surface so, while we haven't had much rain this year, the lucerne we planted is doing well."

When the Bush Tele caught up with the busy 73-year-old, he was loading square bales straight from the paddock onto the utes of local customers.

"This lucerne has been in nine months and we've had three cuts off it," Mr Bates explained.

"And this one is by far the best; it's green, fine stemmed and it's got good weight.

"I reckon 300 square bales from 10 acres is pretty good in terms of a cut.

"And this cut is pretty good when you consider we only got 2.5mm of rain on it.

"We need more rain; we can't seem to get it right here - we either get too much and the place is flooded or we're looking for more."

He's not the only Southern Downs local looking skyward in the hope of a wet reprieve.

"It's a good time to be in hay; there are certainly a lot of people looking for it at the moment as paddock feed runs out.

"I had sheds full of hay until a month or so back and now I am flat getting any back to the shed - people are just buying it as it's baled.

"In fact some of it's sold before it's even baled."

He said prices were sitting at $8-12 for prime lucerne, with "$10 a pretty good price when it came to covering costs".

"It's been good growing weather for lucerne at the moment - there's about a month between cuts and demand is good.

"In fact, last cut I could have sold another 150 bales.

"There has always been good demand for good lucerne around Warwick, a lot of people want it for their horses so it's a pretty reliable market."

Topics:  business drought livestock