Well, the last few weeks have provided some fireworks in the media around biosecurity and the measures Australia is taking around FMD. With the media around dead virus fragments being picked up on our borders, this has raised the level of anxiety around the incursion. However, the good news is the system is working if the virus fragments are being picked up.
You may be asking why I am writing about a livestock disease in a grain marketing column, but Australian agriculture is heavily linked together, with impacts from one industry rippling out to affect other sectors.
FMD is likely to have impacts on the Australian grains industry, as without the livestock sector there is likely to be less demand for grains, particularly coarse grains. This could potentially see lower prices as feed grains destined for beef, dairy, sheep and pigs are diverted to export markets. As well as this, there is likely to be an uptick in cropping area as people move out of livestock and pastures and into intensive cropping.
Under an FMD incursion and the way it is spread, grain logistics between properties with livestock would also be difficult without thorough cleaning of trucks. This adds challenges around logistics and timeliness of receiving grain, meaning that feed millers will also be very conscious about their requirements and how to get that to the mill.
Back when the outbreak hit the United Kingdom, trade of grain and used farm machinery was suspended by Australia, and other countries could do the same if an outbreak occurred here. However, in the current environment, this is unlikely as the pressure on global supply, due to adverse weather events and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, is likely to have ongoing repercussions.
Hay and fodder is another consideration to have. The virus has the ability to stay on these feedstocks for an extended period of time, resulting in implications for trade and export hay markets. As well as this, it may add to the complexity of moving hay to other properties to feed livestock. There may be more controls on these products because of this, including long withholding periods or treatments.
The other threat to our cattle industry is lumpy skin disease (LSD), which could challenge market access into some of our key live export destinations, particularly dairy cows. This may initially see an increase in the amount of stock held on feed or sent to slaughter initially, followed by a reduction in herd size and less need for stock feed.
The important things to remember in these discussions is to control what your farming business can control and make sure you have a biosecurity plan in place for your farm. A biosecurity plan should include things you consider when planning for fire or drought in your business. Do we have genetics safely stored elsewhere? Do we have enough feed on-farm if we have to keep stock on farm for longer than planned?
The other thing is, what can we learn from the pork industry? The pork industry has faced the threat of African swine fever (ASF) getting into Australia since 2018 and, with it close to the border in East Timor and a higher mortality rate than FMD, it is something very concerning to those working closely to the pork sector. Understanding the different pathways diseases can enter your farm, consistent, ongoing management of biosecurity measures and managing the risks to the best of the property’s ability are some of these considerations.
The positives are that we are still at low risk of FMD entering Australia and the wider population is now aware of the risk, but in the meantime, it is worth asking the question around what we can do to reduce the risk. Foreign weeds, stored grain insects, foot rot and OJD are all good reasons to be on top of your biosecurity, whether continuous cropping, mixed enterprise or 100% livestock businesses. For example, are there quarantine areas for new stock coming on farm, or is our seed or hay clean and not bringing in new weeds to the property?
Sitting in on a Grain Growers webinar, in the last two weeks, that included discussion from producers and people working in biosecurity alike, the best piece of advice to protect your farm is ‘Come clean, go clean’. I think it’s a mantra we should all adopt.