Maranoa grazing group benchmarking for success

Putting a science behind carrying capacity


Beef Cattle
The Maranoa group isn't the only one of its kind. Graziers from Longreach and CQ are part of other groups, with interest for more.

The Maranoa group isn't the only one of its kind. Graziers from Longreach and CQ are part of other groups, with interest for more.

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Understanding true carrying capacity and land condition.

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A group of grazing businesses from the Maranoa region are participating in a grazing management project to better understand their carrying capacity, manage stocking rates and learn how to assess and monitor land condition.

The nine businesses began working with Bush AgriBusiness director Ian McLean in 2016 to better understand and improve their business through benchmarking their individual performance and the group as a whole, annually.

Mr McLean said benchmarking provides a good understanding of strengths and weaknesses, resulting in a conversation about the businesses at a high level.

"As well as overall business profitability and cashflow, one aspect of the analysis is calculating how many animal units, either adult equivalent or dry sheep equivalent, they have been carrying," he said. 

"This is the basis for a lot of analysis, such as what their productivity per AE/DSE is, how much labour does it take them to run each of those, and the income and profit per AE or DSE.

"Analysing grazing business in this way means we can look at businesses of different sizes and profiles, or even different species, and compare them on a like-for-like basis."

Mr McLean said one bit of information they don't have when doing the analysis is how many AE or DSE they should be carrying.

"Businesses in the Maranoa are generally constrained by operating scale; knowing what their scale is and making best use of available scale is important," he said.

"This was the catalyst for the grazing management project, whereby the producer group fees have been leveraged by the MLA donor company to pay for the project."

The group of like-minded graziers meet several times a year, mostly on property, and use the host business as a case study.

"We look at what the numbers for the business are, but also the background story of the business so there's not just the quantitative side of it," Mr McLean said.

"Where has the business come from to get where it is in terms of succession, growth over time, what are the current issues that they want the group to focus on, and get feedback from a group of peers on where they are performing well and what insights and advice the group can give them."

This data is overlaid with long-term carrying capacities, determined through land condition assessments, to make more informed business decisions.

"Knowing long-term carrying capacity, and how much current land condition may be reducing carrying capacity is valuable information," Mr McLean said.

"Some producers are very good at intuitively understanding their land and can manage that land condition and the stock numbers, but this helps put a bit more science around it."

The Maranoa group touring the New England region last year.

The Maranoa group touring the New England region last year.

Rangeland ecologist Col Paton began conducting detailed land condition assessment of all properties in the group in 2018.

He said applying some economics to determine the cost of improving the land and what the return would be with extra carrying capacity was an important step.

"The power is in being able to put real figures on improved carrying capacity and improved land condition," Mr Paton said.

"Most managers are doing pretty well and have pretty good land condition, but there are always things that you can pinpoint that might allow them to change land condition.

"Sometimes it's an old pasture that might need renovating or replacing; other times it's spelling country to allow condition to recover."

Despite seasonal conditions meaning the land condition assessments had to be put on hold, Mr Paton said it was important to separate out current seasonal conditions and land conditions which affect long-term carrying capacity.

"Seasonal conditions affect what you can do in a particular year, they don't necessarily change land condition," he said.

"Land condition is the result of a management practice, usually it's grazing management or a series of dry years affecting the pasture and its health over a long period of time, that can reduce land condition.

"You don't know what the land condition is until you've had a growing season so it can express its full ability to grow grass and what sort of grasses are there."

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