IT was a tale of social, political and environmental ironies having huge impacts on the global competitiveness of the northern pastoralist that colourful grazier Tom Stockwell fashioned as his final word in the role of Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association president.
From carbon sequestration to research on feral donkey genetics, Mr Stockwell listed a host of conflicting realities posing significant risk to the northern beef producer’s tenure and productivity.
At the same time, he acknowledged big opportunities ahead and the recent gains in efficiencies and markets and concluded by expressing optimism and confidence, provided the industry took full responsibility for its future.
Speaking at the NTCA’s annual conference in Alice Springs today, Mr Stockwell said despite varied and abundant energy sources, Australia had legislated to have arguably the most expensive power in the world.
Despite huge carbon sequestration, we pretend that managing woody thickening is a sin.
“The northern beef industry has borne the cost of Australia’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and we now know that we have a positive sequestration story to tell, and a significant sustainability issue if we do not control woody regrowth and allow sensible planned clearing as a management response,” Mr Stockwell said.
Despite reliable and significant water resources in the Top End, water has been legislated into a scarce resource.
And despite an abundance of goodwill, land, money and rights many Aboriginal Territorians have benefitted little.
“The NT and the pastoral estate has been at the forefront of transferring land and rights to Aboriginal people,” he said.
“After 40 years it is time for Aboriginal Lands to take responsibility for improving the lot of aboriginals and the NT rather than seeking more rights and control over the pastoral estate.”
His presentation was a summary of the big issues the NTCA is currently dealing with, and no punches were pulled.
There were a few other pertinent little side messages from Mr Stockwell, one being the dangers of “chasing fashion” regarding small primary industries.
Iconic Territory research facility Kidman Springs has apparently purchased a breeding herd of feral donkeys for genetic improvement studies.
Many will be turning in their graves, according to Mr Stockwell.
“I had some trials on Kidman Springs in the early days and I remember spending many hours shooting donkeys which were responsible for denuding the sweet creek frontage,” he said.
It seems, he said, it is in the DNA of the NT to be side-tracked and chase the dream of new primary Industries - which is fine as long as there is a proven market and comparative advantage to be had.
“But grand schemes sponsored by government tax minimisation and large corporates have a poor record of success compared with the organic growth of the beef industry and more recently some of the horticultural crops,” he said.
“It is unreasonable to subsidise and chase the fashion and minor industries though “full cost recovery” for regulatory services for the beef sector that is contributing to the economy.”
On the carbon issue, Mr Stockell was blunt.
The data shows unequivocally northern Australia is a net sink for carbon dioxide.
“Dr Bill Burrows concludes in his submission to the Climate Change Review that Australia needs to proudly proclaim to the world it has most likely reached the holy grail of greenhouse gas reduction by achieving zero net emissions,” Mr Stockwell said.
“This comes about by virtue of our huge vegetated land mass, coupled with a relatively small human population.
“Yet we appear to be embarrassed by this good fortune and seem to want to keep these advantages hidden. It’s time for the self-flagellation and misleading grandstanding on this issue, by all Australian governments, to stop.”
Every year, on every hectare in North Australian woodlands, 2.2 tons of carbon dioxide is sequestered, mostly though woody thickening. And with every increase in wood comes a rapid decrease in grass.
Woody carbon accumulation and pastoralism are competing enterprises, says Mr Stockwell.
Attempts to stymie or delay clearing on pastoral leases that had been through a rigorous approval process, via court proceedings claiming potential to affect climate change, were frivolous given the actual data now available to us, he said.
And like the carbon story, northern country seems to have an abundance of energy sources that could be used to make beef more productive and competitive, but energy policy had “the blinkers and hobbles well and truly on,” he said.
Mr Stockwell has now handed over the president role to Alice Springs cattleman Chris Nott.
The story From carbon to feral donkeys, northern cattlemen tell it how it is first appeared on Farm Online.