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Drought could impact cost of Christmas lunch as price of turkey feed skyrockets

Friday October 5, 2018 - 13:44 EST

The traditional turkey for Christmas lunch or dinner is something many look forward to.

However, some food producers are warning it could come at an extra cost throughout the festive season, and it's because of the weather.

Poultry farmers are facing rising costs for in New South Wales and Queensland, as well as drier conditions in South Australia.

Turkey farmer John Watson told Radio Adelaide he had paid tens of thousands of dollars more for feed this year because the cost of turkey pellets had gone up by $120 per tonne.

He said while the increased cost for consumers would be much smaller, they would inevitably end up paying more for their Christmas turkeys.

"They'll have to be more expensive, for sure, otherwise it's the same old story — people just won't be in business if they don't put their prices up," Mr Watson said.

"It's not only turkeys. It's chicken and anything else that eats grain.

"We get feed in every 10 days and we're just seeing it going up consistently."

Unlike power and gas prices — which can be difficult to constantly monitor — Mr Watson said the grain price was "something that's measurable".

His business, Pooginagoric Free Range Turkeys, based near Bordertown in South Australia's south-east region, has so far been spared the worst of the drought conditions.

"We look out the window and see green," Mr Watson said.

"But we've got a friend with a large turkey farm at Tamworth and he normally grows all his own grain and processes his own feed.

"He's actually buying [and] using South Australian grain that's been rail-freighted to Moree and then road-freighted across to Tamworth."

Food security 'the real worry'

The driving factor in poultry prices was the rising cost of grain which had "in some areas tripled", according to flour producer Mark Laucke.

"On average for us it's doubled," he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

"Even where there's a surplus, because of the need from pulling it from one place to another the price has gone up significantly.

"We had a similar drought to this about 15 years ago and a couple of dry years after that but this one is as bad as I've ever known and it's got the potential to get worse because I think we're only halfway through it."

While rising prices during the festive season will no doubt cause some Scrooge-like grumbling, both Mr Watson and Mr Laucke said there was a bigger issue at play: food security.

"There's grain in Australia right now being used that would normally be exported, so we're running on that at the moment," Mr Laucke said.

"We are really afraid that not only will there be a lot less grain harvested… [but] there won't be enough grain in Australia to feed the animals and the humans of Australia next year, and that's the real worry right now."

Mr Watson echoed that concern, warning the entire production cycle could be disrupted.

"It's just going to be a massive problem for the whole community with feed and grain and everything related to wheat," he said.

"It really concerns us how the community's going to feed themselves soon."


© ABC 2018

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