Copra unavailable due to PNG mill fire

ABC Rural
By Virginia Tapp

weaner steers in a dry paddock Photo: Most of north west Queensland is struggling with drought.

Graziers across Queensland are struggling to source feed for their cattle, and shortages have been traced back to a mill fire in Papua New Guinea.

The mill produced copra, which is crushed coconut husk fed to young or weak cattle for its protein, energy and minerals.

Owner of the mill, Carpenters Products, normally supplies around 80 per cent of the market for copra in Northern Australia, but this year has sent just 5,000 tonnes, one fifth of its usual export volumes.

Sean Hetherington, from Redox, an importer of agricultural products, says the company hasn’t yet found another supplier.

“With the fire at our supplier in PNG, it’s been a bit of a struggle getting stock, all of our contracts we had on order were cancelled.

“There is another mill in Papua New Guinea, there’s a few mills in the Philippines, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, some of which we’re speaking to, some of which we’re not.”

Carpenter Products says it’s not just the fire causing problems for copra production in Papua New Guinea.

One of the directors of the company, Ajit Kalluvadi, says the price of copra was so low that it was hardly worth farming.

“Copra has been a dwindling product, because of the low values of coconut oil. The copra price we pay to the farmers has also come down substantially.

“This has affected the collection of copra coming to the mills, so we had no option but to close our other, smaller mill in Papua New Guinea.”

The price paid to coconut farmers for copra in Papua New Guinea is about $1,000 per tonne at the moment, less than half what they were being paid two years ago.

Mr Kalluvadi says the main mill will be running by the end of the year, but Brisbane based importer, Redox, is now looking elsewhere for copra.

Despite low prices being paid to farmers in PNG, Redox business manager Sean Hetherington says the costs for the end user are skyrocketing.

“The price of copra meal at the start of the season was down around $300 a tonne for bulk copra. It’s well above $500 now, pushing $600 a tonne. Availability is pretty well non-existent.”

Mr Hetherington says the shortage of copra meal is having a flow-on effect on the availability and price of other feeds.

“Once the price gets to a certain level, they usually change across to the cotton seed meal or another protein meal, but because of the shortage across a lot of the meals, the prices are sky high.”

Ron Croft, from West Leichhardt Station near Mount Isa, says he’s abandoned the search for copra and is now waiting in line for some cotton seed.

Mr Croft says there are very few options for feeding his remaining 1,000 head of cattle.

“I’ve believe there’s a shortage of cotton seed as well, probably because of the drought situation again.

“Hay is out of the question, because it’s been too wet on the coast to process it and too dry inland to grow the natural grasses that we usually buy.

“It’s the worst drought in my memory. We mostly rely on dams on West Leichhardt. There’s 26 dams and we have 20 of them dry, so hopefully we can order some rain soon.”