WHILE agriculture in northern Australia is typically much different to southern Australia, largely because of scale and climate, advocated and adopted successful grazing management has features valuable to the south and in some aspects similar.
An overriding theme of northern agriculture, emphasised by advisers, researchers and property managers in the recently published "Australian Beef Report, 2020 Vision", is not unlike ours, "maintain groundcover and match available feed to utilisation".
Col Paton, principal of EcoRich grazing, with more than 40 years experience in research and extension in rangeland management, is strong on this view. In a section, jointly authored by Dionne Walsh, also a researcher and advisor on rangeland management for more than 25 years, they stress that when overgrazing is repeated over a span of years, condition and productivity of pastures declines.
When this occurs producers find themselves managing a negative spiral of declining nutrition and reduced carrying capacity. Paton and Walsh further state that "there is no doubt that matching animal demand (feed intake) to feed supply is challenging in rangeland grazing systems because the amount and quality of pasture varies across a property and from year to year".
Northern agriculturalists like Paton and Walsh emphasise the importance of classifying land condition (in their case category A, B, C and D) as well as by soil class. As land condition declines it is increasingly difficult and time consuming to restore to prime condition. Tree and shrub density is also a common aspect to assess and manage.
A number of successful northern landholders contributed to the publication with their views on land management. One that captures the sentiment of need for careful grazing management was by Robbie and Jo Bloomfield, owners and managers of land at various times from the edge of the Simpson desert to the Top End. "Overstocking in fragile land systems will always lead to future lost production by way of land degradation".
Dr Phil Holmes, joint overall author of the report, stresses that especially in northern Australia it is not all about total stock numbers on a property that results in best profit but more on sensible levels that maximise individual animal performance (weight gain, reproductive performance, low mortality) plus balancing production with feed availability. His many years involvement with northern producers shows these are the ones that make most profit and have their enterprises in the best condition.
Ian McLean, managing director of Bush Agribusiness Pty Ltd, and joint author of the Beef Report, also emphasises the need to manage land sustainably. While he and Phil Holmes are especially strong advocates of aspects like scale of operation, high fertility herds, carefully budgeting and managing expenditure, and labour efficiency (all of which the report covers in considerable detail), effectively managing pastures for their maximum productivity and long term persistence is essential.
Michael Wellington, also with Bush Agriculture and the third joint main author, like Phil Holmes and Ian McLean, use a vast amount of property data collected from rural clients across the nation, to identify best preforming businesses. Again the conclusion is that while many aspects are essential for long term profitability, sound pasture management is essential for not only long term sustainability, but also for profitability.
In this 173 page report I have only highlighted some of the grazing management aspects. Repeatably emphasised by landholders and consultants is the need to maintain reasonable levels of groundcover and to at least periodically allow pastures recovery time. Clearly such management, including in many northern Australian and pastoral areas, requires a lot of technology involving cattle management, including varying stocking pressure responding to variable seasonal conditions.
A copy of the report, which provides a great insight into many aspects of Australian beef production, by independent consultants and farmers, can be obtained via Bush Agribusiness P/L www.bushagri.com.au
Next week: Typical farmers upgrading for the future.
- Bob Freebairn is an agricultural consultant, Coonabarabran. Email email@example.com, phone 0428 752 149.