IT'S a question many landholders ask, what sort of damage will open-cut coal mining leave behind?
Acland Pastoral Company is on a mission to prove land can be effectively rehabilitated post-mining.
Executive general manager of mining for New Hope and general manager of Acland Pastoral Company Jim Randell said they decided to conduct studies to quantify how successful the rehabilitation process has been.
The New Hope Group operates the New Acland coal mine at Acland, on the Darling Downs, and Acland Pastoral Company is a stand-alone subsidiary business.
New Acland coal mine has been operating for 10 years and rehabilitation has been taking place for eight years.
The property is 10,000 hectares, with 1500ha being used for the mining process.
"We are currently running 2800 head of cattle on the property and we normally aim to have between 2500-3000 head," Mr Randell said.
"Primarily we are about fattening and trading cattle - we generally sell via a feedlot once they hit 450kg."
Mr Randell said the size of the open-cut mine never changes always remaining 350ha. As the mine expands from the front, the soil is used to fill it in from behind.
"The material in the lower parts of the hole is moved across to fill in the bottom and the material higher up is hauled across the top," he said.
"They rip between the topsoil stockpiles to get the marrying effect of the soil and then the topsoil is spread and subtropical pastures are planted."
Outcross Precision Livestock Management was commissioned to conduct a study on 77ha of land, which was rehabilitated in 2004. A 31ha control site was also established.
The project had three stages - weight gain performance on grazing pasture, weight gain performance on grain ration and compliance to carcase specifications and the presence of undesirable characteristics.
A total of 281 cattle were grazed together for five months before being split between the two trials sites and monitored for weight gain over 47 days.
The pasture on the property is made up of Queensland Bluegrass, Katambora Rhodes, Gatton Panic, Bisset Bluegrass, Wooly pod vetch and Jap millet.
The study found the cattle on the rehabilitated mining land gained an average of 0.67kg per day, while the control group gained an average of 0.06kg per day.
"Because the results were so different, we looked at benchmark data for the area, which indicated cattle gain an average of 0.6kg per day, which was a much more realistic comparison," Mr Randell said.
"We think dogs may have got in and chased the cattle in the control paddock and that is why there was such a difference."
At present the rehabilitated mining land is only being used for grazing but cropping options are about to be explored in the second stage of the study.
A range of specialists including soil scientists, the University of Southern Queensland, and veterinarians will be used to look below the surface at the land in terms of soil structure and biology.
"We will also look at weigh gains in cattle again and try to remove more of the variables," he said.
"The issue for us now is to find out whether the ground will stand up to a range of climatic conditions over the next five to 10 years."
Mr Randell said workers in both the mine and the agricultural business want to make sure the land is handed back in the best possible condition.
"Many of our 300 employees live locally and 42 of our employees are from farms in the area," he said.
"It makes it easier when you have people from a rural community involved in the mining side who are interested and want to make sure the land is restored.
"If the mine stopped tomorrow our intention is for Acland Pastoral Company to make its own way and continue as a company."
TSBE tours the site
THE Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise conducted a tour of the New Acland mine in early December.
Participants were able to see the work being conducted to rehabilitate mined land back to grazing country for cattle.
TSBE agriculture projects manager Jo Sheppard said there was a great deal of interest in the tour from various sectors.
"The land rehabilitation work happening near Acland is world-class and it is great to see it happening on our doorstep," Ms Sheppard said.
"It was interesting to see the good work happening at Acland, not only with mining but with the rehabilitation of mined land back to grazing land.
"It is important to showcase positive initiatives that are working well between the agricultural and mining sectors."
If interest continues TSBE will look at organising another tour of New Acland in 2014.
Executive general manager of mining for New Hope and general manager of Acland Pastoral Company Jim Randell said they do not see the two businesses as a conflict of interest.
"Commercially it is sacrilege for us to leave behind land that isn't productive," he said.
"We like to get people out here and convince them this is a real day-to-day model of how mining and agriculture can work together."