AS the first batch of open cut coal mines in the Hunter Valley near the end of their life, the land’s potential for productive grazing is being keenly watched by locals.
This month a shiny mob of 40 Charbray steers will hit the Singleton saleyards. Weighing in at 500 kilograms, they’re a product of rehabilitated land at Glencore’s Liddell mine at Muswellbrook.
Now in its third phase, the trial was started in 2012 at the request of locals who wanted more proof the mine’s land could be sustainably grazed in the long-term.
From equal weights at the start of the trials, Glencore grazed two mobs of 20 head for 330 days. One mob grazed on rehabilitated pasture and the other on natural pastures owned by the mine.
So far, the trial has found the cattle grazing on rehabilitated pasture have gained more weight than those on natural pasture under the same management conditions.
The steers headed to slaughter this month were 54 kilograms heavier than the control group at their last weigh-in.
In 2014, the first lot of steers to finish the trial were 79 kilograms heavier than the control group.
The two groups of steers have been grazed across 50 hectares. The rehabilitated pasture featured Rhodes grass, Green Panic, lucerne and clovers. The native pastures included red grass, rye grass, paspalum and microlena.
Advising Glencore on the trial has been former Department of Primary Industries agronomist Neil Nelson, Singleton.
“Tropical grasses have been proven to perform on mine site rehabilitation areas,” Mr Nelson said.
“There are clear differences in the finished cattle.”
The land at Glencore was mined for coal and rehabilitated by re-shaping the landscape and replacing the top soil layer before fertilising and seeding it with pasture.
Mr Nelson said the pasture wasn’t pumped full of fertiliser. Its last application of single-superphosphate was in 2014.
The cattle were supplied by Glencore’s pastoral wing, Colinta Holdings. Its operations span Glencore’s holdings from the McArthur River in the Northern Territory right down to Mudgee. Headed up by Gary Johncock, it runs 50,000 cattle.
“We’re an arms length operator. We work closely together but we’re not in bed together,” Mr Johncock said of Colinta and Glencore. “This trial is proof mines and beef enterprises can successfully co-exist.”
But Glencore has no plans to sell off its rehabilitated land just yet. The mine has to maintain the trial site as an operational buffer zone for safety reasons.
“If it ever does get sold, however, it will be sold as grazing land. Not clapped out mining land,” he said.