Sarina beef producer, Stewart Borg, will use his 2017 Nuffield Scholarship to pursue the potential of lotfeeding cattle in northern Australia.
Distance to markets and grain has long put the intensive industry out of reach, but Mr Borg hopes his work will help create a greater awareness of the opportunities around northern feedlots.
A key motivation behind his study will be the plans he has for his own beef operation at Marklands, 30km north of Sarina.
Working in partnership with his wife Sarah, Mr Borg runs a cattle and cane operation across 2630ha with 1400 commercial grey Brahman breeders and small stud herd of 200 breeders.
Mr Borg and his family have an approval to build a 999-head feedlot, which is more than 300km from the nearest grain belt.
To combat that, Mr Borg looked at what he could grow himself in the tropics. They are currently growing soybean and oats and producing silage.
He said with soybean silage containing upwards of 22 per cent protein, they should be able to keep their grain inputs at a minimum.
Mr Borg said his research would particular look to what lessons northern producers in Australia could learn from the US feedlot sector.
“We will focus more heavily on the likes of corn and that's where we come back to having more relevance to the US feed sector than we do to the Australian feed sector, because the entire US feed sector is all based on soybean and corn silage,” Mr Borg said.
Mr Borg said he initially hoped to grow his own grain, but as the feedlot becomes fully operational they will not have the capacity to do so.
To overcome that challenge, he said he had been speaking to other farmers in the area who are all looking at alternative cropping as well.
Mr Borg said he had been researching the potential of an on-site feedlot for the past eight years and completely “re-vamped” his plan two-and-a-half years ago.
He said getting the feedlot approval was a long process of compromises.
“We have a lot more stringent red tape to comply with with the effluent runoff side of things,” he said.
“So the effluent containment system has to be something a lot larger than ever seen before and that's predominantly to do with location and rainfall.
“The pen space will be partially roofed so we're going to actually have both the shelter from heat, humidity and rain, and that also greatly reduces our containment dams because that guttered area will be taken out as clean water instead of effluent runoff.”
AgForce North regional president Russell Lethbridge, Werrington, Einasleigh, said while the northern grain industry was “just starting to come of age”, it would be a while until lotfeeding could take off in the region.
But Mr Lethbridge said it was great to see producers like Sarina Nuffield scholar, Stewart Borg (story on right), looking at the potential of intensive industries in northern Australia.
“I think that any alternative outlet and market for northern cattle can only be an absolute positive,” Mr Lethbridge said.
“We are basically stuck on manufacturing and live export.”
Mr Lethbridge said while it was great to be able to finish cattle in feedlots in the north, the option still needed to open for producers to kill those cattle in the north.
“If I'm talking proper north, north of Charters Towers, we will certainly need protein sources grown very close to a feedlot site, and we also need possibly an alternative kill space,” he said.
“It is an issue - you can't be sending them 1200km to be killed.”
He said without investment in infrastructure, and companies coming on board, he didn’t see lotfeeding taking off in the north within the next five years.
Mr Borg will spend eight weeks travelling to Indonesia and the southern states of America where they operate feedlots in similar environments to northern Queensland.
“There are feedlots in Brazil with over 100,000 head, in high rainfall areas,” Mr Borg said.