WHEN Gavin Dennien took up the job as manager at Shamrockvale, Beaudesert, he had empty paddocks, a clean slate - and one directive: run more than 1000 head of cattle on 1200 hectares (3000 acres).
"Being business people, the owners wanted to run it above capacity with stocking rates, which makes it a bit hard, so I needed to put a plan in place where I could feed these cattle," he said.
The 1600ha property, which lies in the fertile valley halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, is split into a breeder and backgrounding operation and 300ha is irrigated cropping land.
Mr Dennien runs a core breeding herd of 265 purebred Santa Gertrudis that are mated with Angus and Ultrablack bulls.
The progeny are EU-accredited and go to the weaner market, and this year he is buying in EU weaner steers to fatten and sell directly to Australian Country Choice, suppliers to the supermarket giant Coles.
When Mr Dennien took on the management of Shamrockvale, the paddocks were full of grass, but he knew it would not last long.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, he had a look at what his neighbours were doing and noted that most surrounding dairy farms were planting corn.
"It wasn't brainstorming - it was a matter of looking over the fences."
Mr Dennien then sat down with Norco Rural, Beaudesert, discussed what to plant - corn - put a plan in place and sourced seeds from two different businesses.
"Pacific Seeds has been tried and tested in this area with good results, but I have used Heritage Seeds in the past with cereal and pastures, so I wanted to give those guys a go, too."
In the end, he used three varieties from Heritage and two from Pacific and planted 50ha.
"When we first started, our biggest worry was that there was going to be wet weather, so we looked at the varieties that could handle the wet and disease.
"That was a big thing we took into consideration when selecting our Heritage seeds."
The weather proved to be the complete opposite.
With no rain until March - 50mm - Mr Dennien had to irrigate to make up the remaining 400mm.
Although the property lies along the Albert River, he used his own 600 megalitre storage of water and said he would not have been able to get the crop through without that.
"We don't use a lot of the water from the Albert River, because people see all these irrigators going and think we are flogging the river, but we use our own catchment," he said.
Two lots of corn were planted - an early and a late crop - and averaged 60 tonnes per hectare.
"The late crop was not nearly as good because of the heatwave near Christmas and we were running out of water towards the end.
"And we didn't get any rain like everyone else until late March, so we had our butts hanging out, trying to get water to it. But that's a pretty respectable yield."
Heritage Seeds northern grain crop product manager Todd Jones said the reason for Mr Dennien's success was because he did everything right and didn't take shortcuts.
"Even long-term growers cut corners, but Gavin didn't," Mr Jones said.
"There are a lot of corn growers who struggle, but that was a high-quality crop and we have few things to learn."
One could be growing in a smaller area and working out the water frequency.
"We all know that corn is the king of forage, but it's just the cost of the resources that go into it," Mr Jones said.
Taking into account cultivation, sowing, fertiliser, herbicide, insecticide, irrigation, harvest, levies and insurance, the cost to plant corn is about $1500/ha.
"It also depends on your paddock. You could argue that if you have planted legumes beforehand, you'd have residual nitrogen so that could knock down the price."
Mr Dennien did not scrimp, and the investment has more than paid off.
"Corn is a hard crop on soil - but we did do it right and we did spent the money on the you-beaut fertilisers, which is very expensive, but I am seeing the benefit now."
The two crops yielded 3000 tonnes of corn, which was then chopped up into silage and then put into two above-ground bunkers.
"It's a lot of bloody corn!"
Although he had originally planned to sell 1000 tonnes, Gavin decided to keep the lot for insurance after the weather forecast another El Nino.
The corn silage is mixed with 10 per cent of good-quality hay to keep up the protein, and a supplement additive is added.
"It is keeping the costs down as grain prices are extravagant, so I have been virtually feeding hay silage as a maintenance mix for the breeders."
Having the corn silage has meant calves do not have to be pulled off early from their mothers, and steers are really putting on the beef.
"Steers are pulling off natural pasture at 320kg, and then they are put that silage for 60 days and are averaging about 1kg a day and going out at 380-400kg."
The plan is to plant more corn - perhaps not as much - and also go pretty hard with lucerne.
Meanwhile, he has his two bunkers of corn silage, which he calls money in the bank, and if it is not needed it will still be there.
"It's helping me sleep better at night."