Dairy farmers in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia have started cashing in on a deal offering by-products from beer and fruit juice plants as a stock feed supplement for their herds.
Brewing and dairy giant, Lion, has saved some of its suppliers serious money in feed costs since offering brewers’ grain direct to about 16 farms in Queensland and South Australia a year ago.
Deliveries in 30-tonne loads were initially sourced from Lion’s XXXX brewery Brisbane and West End site in Adelaide, trucked weekly to herds within a couple of hours’ drive of the breweries.
Last week farms from NSW’s Hunter Valley, South Coast and Central West joined the program, courtesy of Toohey’s Lidcombe plant.
A few Victorian and WA farms will take grain from Lion’s Little Creatures craft ale breweries in Geelong and Perth while fruit pulp from Leeton’s Daily Juice Company plant goes to southern NSW and northern Victoria.
The initiative has been a winner for participating farms, boosting their feed rations for a competitive price and adding about three cents a litre to their bottom line via lower input costs and better milk earnings.
Lion Dairy and Drinks managing director, Peter West, said the arrangement was a “win-win” for all, and it highlighted Lion’s keenness to build close, practical bonds with its milk suppliers through its wide-ranging Dairy Pride program.
“It’s getting great results – there’s a waiting list of people wanting to add brewers’ grain to their rations,” he said.
Making by-products available at a discount price gave farmers a productivity and profitability advantage and put “waste” from Lion’s non-dairy operations to good use within the dairy network.
Previously brewing residue and fruit pulp were available to dairy farmers, but via re-sellers whose margins inflated the price.
Much of the volume was committed to stock feed processors or feedlots.
Sunshine Coast farmer, Ray De Vere, said access to brewers’ grain via Lion’s Dairy Pride initiative cut the cost as much as 30pc, giving him confidence to expand his herd and feed his 200 cows better when pasture availability was low.
Brewers’ grain – primarily a malted barley residue with other malt extract ingredients – contains about 22pc protein and about 11 megajoules a kilogram or energy, making it ideal to boost a lactating cow’s milk protein, and fat content and yield.
Citrus pulp, which also includes processed apple and pear residue, has less protein (7.5pc) but more energy (13mj/kg).
Both contain high moisture content – up to 80pc.
Meanwhile, trials are assessing how best to feed out the sticky, porridge-like, high protein soybean waste left after making Lion’s Vitasoy soy drink range at Wodonga in Victoria.
The by-product program’s next stage will also see Tasmanian farmers accessing brewers’ grain from James Boag’s Launceston brewery.
Lion’s agricultural procurement director, Murray Jeffrey, said brewers’ grain was a cheap alternative to conventional feed grain, and particularly useful in winter, but it had to be carefully managed.
Although now cheaper to Lion’s suppliers, prices still fluctuated with overall feed market trends.
“Consistency is critical for herd feeding programs, so it’s not something you suddenly include in a cow’s diet, or cut out, if conditions change ” he said.
The past year’s trials showed demand for the brewery residue had settled down to a core group of farmers budgeting on taking relatively fixed volumes in their rations.
In total 75,000t of brewers’ grain and 20,000t of pulp will be sent to about 35 farms in the next year, although by-product output peaks at breweries in spring and early summer and from the fruit juice plant from January to May.
Southern Queensland farmer, Duncan McInnes, who milks about 550 cows near Ipswich, is now using brewers’ grain for the first time – about 90t a fortnight.
It contributed to a 10pc lift in milk volumes in the past year, having improved the quality and the digestibility of his herd’s diet.
“Costs do move around, but there is still an extra incentive to produce more milk,” said Mr McInnes, chairman of Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative, the major supply group for Lion’s eastern Australian factories.
Lion’s Mr West said the by-products program reinforced Lion’s commitment to strong relationships with suppliers which included paying competitive prices for milk and mapping clear business purposes for both partners to work towards – a “three Ps” strategy.
“Our three Ps program reflects the high value we put on every drop of milk our partnership produces,” he said.
“We listen to feedback from our farmers. Factors like costs and price guarantees are central to their sustainability, and our productivity, too.”