A challenge for the northern beef industry is to find ways to expand output and improve the quality of livestock products despite the constraints imposed by Australia’s limited natural resources and highly variable climate.
NQ Dry Tropics and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) teamed up in a joint initiative of Saving Our Soils Reef Trust project and Grazing BMP to provide Burdekin landholders access to expert advice to help them build efficiency into their business by striking a balance between the needs of food production and building landscape resilience.
Dr Ian Braithwaite, a northern Australian cattle veterinarian with more than 30 years’ experience in the beef industry, and Bob Shepherd, a DAF principal extension officer, addressed close to 60 graziers at two separate masterclasses held earlier this month, at Charters Towers and Belyando Crossing.
Dr Braithwaite said graziers needed to demonstrate that they were continually enhancing their long-term productivity, high biosecurity standards, profitability, sustainability and environmental stewardship.
“The industry has its challenges and it’s up to us to meet them head on.
“Only about 10 per cent of what impacts a sustainable grazing operation is out of the control of the grazier - this is sunlight and rainfall. The other 90 per cent is influenced by the choices and planning of the business,” Dr Braithwaite said.
“First and foremost graziers are grass farmers. Without a sustainable rangeland we don’t have a beef industry.”
“Having adequate grass, good rangeland stability and knowing what your herd inventory is doing, provides financial security because these factors reflect accuracy in herd numbers, stock flows, sales and cash flows.
“Often graziers get caught in the trap of running more cows to produce more calves to cover business deficits such as debt or low rebreed rates, but at what cost does this have on the core business of being grass farmers,” he said.
To break this cycle Dr Braithwaite said graziers should transition from a continuous to a controlled mating system, improve the reproductive performance of female cattle, and manage pasture coverage.
“Sort out your herd before sorting out your business, have an accurate herd inventory (LSU/AE), relate this to your pasture budget at the time and into the future, and know what your cows are doing,”Dr Braithwaite said.
Mr Shepherd, who specialises in grazing land management and soil conservation spoke about how to manage the feed base to optimise carrying capacity, and the effect ground cover has on water infiltration and run-off.
“Graziers can only control one of the three factions that drive pasture production - land condition. The best country in A-condition can grow up to 10kg of dry matter pasture per hectare per millimetre of rainfall,” Mr Shepherd said.
“Conversely, D-condition land may only grow up to 0.5kg pasture her hectare per millimetre of rainfall.
“While you can’t change your rainfall or your land type, you can control coverage of P3 (perennial, palatable, productive) pasture on your country and increase your water use efficiency and pasture production,”he said.
Mr Shepherd also showcased a free Bureau of Meteorology online resource called Climate Ahead that forecasts the percentage chance of receiving total amounts of rainfall over a three month period. The data is updated monthly and can be used to help graziers make decisions on stocking rates into the future.
One of the workshop organisers NQ Dry Tropics Grazing senior field officer Linda Anderson said the masterclasses brought experts and graziers together to discuss challenges facing the beef industry.
“Ian and Bob were able to give graziers a bit of a better idea of some of the thing they can do within their business to help improve their financial status, help improve their herd efficiency and productivity and improve their landscape resilience to keep better ground cover,” Ms Anderson said.
“The joint initiative with DAF, Grazing BMP and NQ Dry Tropics combining forces means we’re able to provide the best bang for everybody’s buck, and to also be able to put all producers and extension staff on the same page so that we can deliver a consistent message throughout the region.
“We’re here to help graziers to better manage their country which saves sediment loads from ending up on the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
The story Masterclass helps landholders tackle variable climate first appeared on North Queensland Register.