A SHORTFALL in birdseed millet supplies could be the stimulus for growers in Australia’s summer cropping regions to add the versatile crop to their farming programs this season.
Deacon Seeds general manager, Mark Schmidt, Dalby, said the millet supply pipeline was running dry.
“There is not a lot of millet around and the demand is starting to pick up. Some of the countries that supply markets overseas aren’t supplying millets because of droughts or lack of production,” he said.
“With White French Millet, the United States is the major exporter. They won’t export because they have had a drought and a shortfall in production.
“So, at present, Australia is seeing good demand for White French Millet for export overseas. That is likely to continue for at least the next six months.”
Mr Schmidt said growers had had a mixed run with millet over the past few years, but he hoped that wouldn’t put them off considering the crop at a time when indications were that there would be strong demand this season.
“Two years ago the prices of millet were over $1000/tonne because of our droughts. We started importing. This year we ended up with a small crop and growers thought they would get $1000/t plus, but the market fell to the $500-$600/t range for White French Millet,” he said.
“So, I get the feeling some growers might opt out of millet because they found it was disappointing in price and it took a lot longer to sell because there were so many imports in the country.
“But all the imports have worked themselves out of the system. It won’t be too long before people are back to needing 100 per cent Australian-grown millet because all the imports will be gone. If growers don’t plant because they are discouraged with pricing last year we might end up with a shortfall again.
“The message is there is good demand now because there is little in the system at present and there is export demand. We could see quite good prices for birdseed millet and it moving a lot quicker.”
Northern agronomist, Paul McIntosh, said one of the attractions of millet was it was a versatile crop that had a range of uses in addition to grain production, including as a cover crop, a grazing crop or a crop for hay.
“A very old crop like millet is really starting to come back into its own. There is a heap of uses for millet,” he said.
“It can be a cover crop to give us the precious stubble that gives water infiltration and erosion protection from heavy storm rains; it produces grain; it produces hay.”
Mr McIntosh said it could be grown throughout the northern farming region from the Burdekin and Atherton Tablelands in north Queensland down to the Victorian border.
“It is a small seeded crop, so having good soil structure, shallow planting and rolling post-planting is a good idea to get seed-soil contact,” he said.
“It comes into itself with weed competition. It is a fast-growing plant. You can have a lot of plants in a square metre – 80 to 200. So you can imagine the competition you get against weeds.”
That weed competition was particularly import because Mr McIntosh said the only drawback with millet was there was no effective herbicide program available for in-crop grass control.
“That’s my only reservation with millet. We have the broadleaf weeds sorted, but grass weeds are very difficult to control with herbicides,” he said.
Sunflower supply shortfall
Mr Schmidt said in addition to millet, there was also a shortage of sunflower supplies for birdseed.
“For the last year and a half we have been importing out of Bulgaria. This year Bulgaria has a shortfall in their production, so they can’t supply any black sunflowers,” he said.
“Also, the world has a deficit of black sunflowers, so there might be opportunities for us to start exporting black sunflowers this year.
“The only thing is we haven’t found out where the export price will be. But as there is a shortage overseas, they might have to pay the price we are asking for.”
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