CHICK Olsson is a man on a mission. The owner of the Brisbane-based animal health and nutrition business Four Season Company sees a massive opportunity in reducing the environmental impact of agriculture by improving the efficiency of the livestock industry.
His aim is to see the conversion of millions upon millions of hectares of rice straw converted into animal protein.
“It’s burnt at the end of every rice harvest right across China and other Asian countries because up until now that is all they have known to do with it,” Mr Olsson said.
“The obvious thing to do is to convert low protein roughage it into animal protein using the technology we already have, as we are increasingly doing in Australia.
“Imagine how much pollution that will reduce in the world’s most populated country, while at the same time providing valuable protein. The carbon footprint will be massively reduced.”
Last week the dynamic businessman was in Laos, a landlocked country in south east Asia, which shares borders with both China and Thailand. From there he hopes to establish a molasses block plant, sourcing raw materials from both countries.
The aim is to produce stabilised nutrition blocks that can be freighted to China and other south east Asian countries using already established transport system. The blocks will also be exported back to Australia into an ever increasing market.
“There are millions upon millions of tonnes of rice straw being burnt in China,” Mr Olsson said.
“That rice straw is an incredibly valuable resource if we can use some pretty basic technology using a by-pass protein to convert it into animal protein.”
Trail work at a National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute research station in Laos has already shown the value of the feeding system. While the weight gains were modest, the system overcame the ongoing problem of cattle losing weight and fertility during the dry season.
The trial work is also investigating how to better manage the health of the cattle herd, particularly through the use of medicated blocks to control internal parasites. Improved genetics are also playing a part with the introduction of Red Brahman cattle from Australia.
Part of the attraction to Laos is its very attractive tax system. Economic zones set up across the country offer tax free breaks for five to 10 years depending on the products being manufactured before reverting to Laos’ flat 8pc tax rate.
The country also has an oversupply of vets, suggesting a ready workforce is available to train specifically in animal nutrition. “I’m a very big supporter of gender equality,” Mr Olsson said. “Laos has a lot going for it with some very highly skilled people.”
The program will work with Laos vets who trained in Australia through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
Small but big opportunity
YELLOW cattle are small. Very small, in fact. Cows weigh anything from 200-250kg while bulls are up to 350kg. Calves hit the ground at a tiny 14-15kg.
Laos’ small holder cattle owners typically have three to five animals, treating their livestock as a bank account rather than attempting to manage the productivity of their livestock.
Small though they may be, the price is anything but. Laos’ ubiquitous cattle sell for the equivalent of US$4-$5/kg liveweight, making them worth more than double what cattle bring in Australia.
Despite the seemingly massive price advantage, relatively limited importance is placed on beef production, despite having an estimated 1.7 million cattle and 800,000 buffalo in a country virtually the same size as Victoria.
Cows produce calves about once every three years and there are very few other signs of animal husbandry or health management other than a rope attached to the necks of some of the animals.
While the country enjoys a reliable wet season, the annual eight month dry sees both pasture protein levels crash and cattle live weights collapse.
- Mark Phelps traveled to Laos as a guest of the Four Season Company.