When feed prices rise, food prices will rise too

Expensive feed is a major headache for Mzansi's farmers. One of the country's most respected animal feed nutritionists shares his take on rising feed prices, how feed quality is affected and how consumers may expect to pay more for their food soon

Dr Francois van der Vyver says natural grazing is still the most important element of livestock feeding but should be supplemented with specific nutrients. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Dr Francois van der Vyver says natural grazing is still the most important element of livestock feeding but should be supplemented with specific nutrients. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Rising animal feed prices have been an enormous challenge for livestock and poultry farmers in Mzansi. This increase has put immense pressure on the profitability of these commodities. While farmers have absorbed most of these price increases so far, an increase in food prices seems very likely, says Dr Francois van der Vyver, national technical manager of Voermol Feeds SA.

“As the feed price has steadily increased throughout the year, along with the fuel price, the margin that the farmer makes has decreased. These increases have not yet materialised to the same extent when one considers what we as consumers are paying for food,” he says.

Dr Francois van der Vyver, national technical manager of Voermol Feeds SA. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

But passing on the price pressure to the rest of the value chain, including consumers, is essential for the survival of the farmers, he explains.

Van de Vyver is one of the country’s most respected animal feed nutritionists. He is closely involved in managing, maintaining and developing quality animal feed products to enable producers to strategically feed their ruminant livestock.

He offers training and expert advice to commercial and new-era producers across the beef, dairy, sheep and game industries. He practically applies and transfers his knowledge to improve the production, health and welfare of animals sustainably. It is done via presentations at events, interviews and technical articles that are distributed across various print and online media. Van de Vyver also provides support in the field and online.

Food For Mzansi checked in with Van de Vyver for more insights into the challenges of animal nutrition, to discuss why animal feed prices have increased and how it is set to affect the industry. 

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Sinesipho Tom: Feed prices have increased significantly and feedlot owners and livestock and poultry farmers are feeling the pinch. What caused this upsurge in feed prices? 

Dr Francois van de Vyver: As ruminant nutritionist I can only comment on what we saw happening in our industry. The upsurge in particular raw materials were sudden and excessive and linked to various global effects, as well as local effects such as the riots earlier this year. 

In practice, the prices on NPN (urea, ammonium chloride and so forth) and phosphorous sources increased much more than in a typical year. These are also part of fertilisers which is in high demand during the early rain season. Unfortunately, all raw materials have been affected this year and increases in fuel prices as well as long delays for imported shipments, are steadily and continuously increasing raw material costs.

For 2022, do you think South Africa will be experiencing the same rise in prices as in 2021?

We know from previous occurrences that the situation can change overnight or quickly. Most companies would be following a protocol of buying the expensive raw materials on a shorter basis. 

Has the feed price increase interfered with the quality of feed?

Fortunately, the impact of raw material costs on feed quality is minimal. Animal feeds are formulated to minimum nutrient specifications and in some instances to maximum specifications. The formulation will remain a least-cost formulation, meeting the set nutrient specifications for the particular product. It is merely the combination of raw materials that will change. The downside, however, is that to maintain the same quality and performance, the cost of the feed itself will increase in direct relation to raw material costs.

What are the biggest challenges animal feed nutrition faces in the country? 

This is a tough one. I’d say that for the immediate future the farmer or producer will be taking financial strain, and [secondly] threatening food security. There is usually a lag period but, in my opinion, we will see food prices rising and hopefully so for the survival of the farmer or primary producer who has been absorbing a lot of these costs.

What other complementary feed supplements are there for ruminants that can protect farmers’ profitability?

Natural grazing should form the basic feed source for any ruminant system. We have four different veld types in South Africa – sweet, sour, mixed and Karoo shrub veld. These four veld types are all characterised by a phosphorous deficiency which is typical for Southern Africa.

When one looks at natural grazing within South Africa, one would have to split it between the different seasons. We know that in summer, specifically early summer, the grazing is of a very high nutrient quality – especially for the sour veld areas. Sweet veld usually maintains its nutrient value much better.

However, phosphorous deficiency, also known as Pica, is a problem throughout Southern Africa. [The same goes for] calcium in certain areas, but in most cases, calcium is sufficient, sodium a little bit low and then magnesium and potassium can be area dependent – but mostly it is sufficient.

In terms of winter, this period tends to be more challenging as protein and energy becomes deficient, which therefore requires to be supplemented. When this happens, the veld should be matched to the animal with the appropriate supplement to provide for efficient nutrient intake.

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