Six weeks since returning from my Nuffield Global Focus program and I’m still being asked, “what did you learn?”
Still somewhat overwhelmed by the experience, I have taken to responding with either “It’s all happening in Africa” or “NEVER drink Ukrainian vodka”, depending on the audience.
As the weeks have passed, one observation keeps reverberating, and by sheer chance, it also relates to Prime Minister Turnbull’s recent drought tour of western Queensland.
As I travelled, it struck me that our northern Queensland rangelands have the potential to be some of the most truly ‘sustainable’ agricultural systems in the world.
In recent weeks there has been a couple of tongue-in-cheek FB posts suggesting our naturally produced, grass-fed beef is the real ‘vegan’ beef.
Our rangelands beef production system – cattle suited to the conditions, wandering natural landscapes, picking their fill of mostly native pasture before spending the rest of their day standing under a tree – has few comparably sustainable agricultural production systems anywhere in the world.
There is however, one proviso. We can only claim sustainability if we keep grass in front of the herd all year round. Obviously, drought is a constant challenge, but in the north, we are fortunate to have reasonably reliable seasons thanks to monsoonal influences.
Despite nearly always having some sort of a wet season, it is not uncommon for producers to run short on grass towards the end of the year, and trade on the body condition of the herd to get through.
When this occurs, stocking rates are not being matched to long term carrying capacity, production gets pushed too hard, losses occur, country gets flogged, financial risk increases and people get stressed.
The most recent Beef$ense client appraisal, shows a real willingness amongst Gulf producers to better manage land condition.
Many leading younger producers describe themselves as being “guardians” or “stewards” of the land.
In multigenerational family operations, the succession process provides an opportunity to plan for more seasonal variability, and as properties transition from one generation to the next, change core operating principles, including stocking rates, without offending anyone’s sensibilities.
As one of the ranchers we visited in Kenya on our Nuffield trip said, “the most important lesson I ever learned....it’s our biggest responsibility; forget trying to make money...” causing momentary heart failure for my inner ag economist, before following with, “you look after the land and the land will look after you”. Nutshell moment...
– Alison Larard, Westpac’s 2018 Nuffield Scholar