EVEN when you see it, it’s hard to comprehend. Undulating basalt hills densely covered in highly productive Rhodes grass and green panic pastures that just about any cattle producer would give their eye teeth for.
But things are not what they seem. This impressive landscape is not just some forgotten, locked-up paddock of improved pasture. It represents the incredible rehabilitation work being carried out at the New Acland coal mine north of Oakey.
It’s only when New Acland’s senior environment manager Tom Sheppard shows a soil profile pit that there is a clue that rolling country is not in its original, undisturbed state. In fact, the ground underfoot was actually a 60m pit which was mined and progressively refilled as the coal was removed.
“We monitor the soils, the pastures , the water and everything else to make sure we get it right,” Mr Sheppard said. “We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve here and how we can take a mined area and turn it into highly productive cattle country.”
The previously mined country is an important part of the New Hope Group’s 4000 head Acland Pastoral Company cattle operation, which is an integral part of the mining operation.
Some 700ha has been, or is in the process of being, rehabilitated. More than 500ha of that country is fenced and back in roduction as cattle country.
Acland Pastoral Company manager Tim Burgess said it was important the mined country was rehabilitated as it was critical to the cattle operation.
“We are very committed to running the best cattle business we can, and making sure we get it right,” Mr Burgess said.
“We’re about using science and engineering to eliminate some of the guesswork right through the operation.”
Part of that thinking has been to bring in Dr John Bennett from the University of Southern Queensland carry out research measuring the performance of cattle on the rehabilitated soils.
The Acland Pastoral breeding herd is a combination of Angus, Charolais and Santa genetics, which is now increasingly having an Angus focus. Mr Burgess said he was putting significant pressure on the fertility of the breeding herd to maximise the productivity of the herd.
Part of the drive for quality is trial work with 150 selected Angus steers, which have been consigned to Whyalla Feedlot at Texas. The steers will be processed at Oakey, with the expectation the beef will be graded into Oakey’s Angus Reserve branded product.
Part of the challenge on the property has been to reorganise and refence what was about about 60 much smaller farms, mostly acquired following the near collapse of the dairy industry as a result of deregulation.
All of the water used in the mining operation is bought from Toowoomba city’s Wurtulla water treatment facility via a 47km long pipeline, eliminating the need to use ground water in the mining operation. Perhaps surprisingly the mine used only a fraction of that wastewater. While a small amount is used for irrigation, the bulk is released downstream, and is used by other farmers.