If the shortage of quality forages and dark grains was not enough to worry farmers, livestock producers have been dealt another serious blow with the news that the world’s supply of vitamins A and E have been hit following a huge fire in Germany.
The fire, at BASF’s ingredients plant at the Ludwigshafen complex, near Frankfurt, means that a key precursor used in the manufacturing process for many vitamins has been knocked out resulting in approximately 40% of the world’s vitamin A for human and animal nutrition being limited for the next six months. For farmers, the result is that livestock feed manufacturers are having to scramble about to source other supplies. 
And, with the vitamin and mineral market in the hands of so few manufacturers, sourcing materials from alternative companies will not be easy. 
In previous years, supplies could be found in China, but many such factories have been forced to close due to a government crackdown on environmental pollution.
Few feed manufacturers keep volume stores in hand either, as many felt vitamin prices were seriously elevated and kept supplies at a minimum as a result, only buying what they needed.
Compounding the problem further is the fact that this is the time of year, when demand for such vitamins peaks, as most cattle are now housed and those that are still out, are unable to consume enough vitamin A with natural supplies in grass much lower in quantity and quality. Demand for the vitamins A and E also rises from now on to feed unborn calves, lambs and pigs in the womb.
Scotmin Nutrition said it was already experiencing difficulty obtaining product at contracted rates and according to technical manager, Alan Richmond, the situation is only going to get worse.
“The next six months will be challenging until a clearer picture emerges of continuity of supply and whether the expected improvement in the Chinese situation will bring back some more stability to the market,” he said.
“Prices are increasing daily – the last I heard was that vitamin E values have risen five-fold and vitamin A nearer 10-fold.
“These prices will have to be passed on and so there is likely to be large price increases in mineral/vitamin supplements at the start of next year if not before, across the industry, and in many cases, cancellation of existing contracts,” added Mr Richmond.
Echoing these points, David McClelland, technical director at Norvite, based in Aberdeenshire, said that while Norvite is fortunate to have adequate supplies at present, the problem that vitamins are in such tight supply has already caused swift  increases in supplement  prices, with some suppliers calling ‘force majeure’ on existing contracts.
“Some 40% of the world’s vitamin A  production has been wiped out which has had a significant effect on prices,” he said. “In previous years, the level of vitamins in feeds has been increased, so there is room to ease back, but this will not be enough to fully mitigate the effect on prices. 
“Farmers have been seeing the benefits of luxury levels of vitamin E in the diet to the unborn lamb or calf in increased vigour, so there is room to cut back to some extent, but seek advice before changing specifications,” added Mr McClelland.
He said that vitamin E values had already increased six-fold, with the market price for vitamin A premix having risen to a colossal £250,000 per tonne. The effect on farm supplements could be a rise of  £100-£200 per tonne for a standard mineral.
However, Mr McClelland urged producers not to panic, as every business in the trade already knows about the situation and will be making contingency plans. Instead, he advised farmers to discuss matters with their suppliers.
Chairman of the Agricultral Industries Conferderation in Scotland, Stephen Kenyon also pointed out that such price rises taken into context in comparison to other feeds. "Prices on feedinfo.com show a good ruminant compound vitamin spec is going to rise by around £6/t and a high specification sheep or suckler mineral by as much as £200. 
"As with all things, producers need to work the cost back to the daily price. The downside cost of not supplementing on a mineral is an extra 2.5p/head/day, or £4.50 per calf, assuming a standard cattle feed rate six months before calving.
On a more positive note, new quantities of draff and pot ale syrup are set to be available for Scottish livestock farmers from January 3, following a recent review of co-product activities at Diageo’s distilling operations. The additional draff supply will be distributed through KW Scotland. 
KW Scotland's Rachel Reid said: “Draff has always worked well as a forage replacer in cattle rations, as well as being used as an alternative to dry concentrates where digestible fibre is needed to balance high starch levels. Both feeds are also great sources of protein for farmers facing reduced availability of mid-protein feeds."