Old Man Plains field day: Beyond the dry times

The Northern Territory Government’s Department of Primary Industry and Resources hosted a field day for Central Australian pastoralists in September 2019. The field day proved a success with 65 producers, researchers and industry stakeholders converging on the Old Man Plains (OMP) Research Station to learn more about building resilience through the dry times.

OMP is located approximately 20 kilometres south of Alice Springs. Managed by the Northern Territory Government since 2003, it provides an integral base for Central Australian cattle and land management research. Beyond the dry times was the first field day to take place at OMP since 2013.

Ideas for information to be presented at the day was provided by local beef producers.

One of the most popular presentations on the day was an overview of informed decision making in agribusiness provided by Ian McLean of Bush Agribusiness. “If we were to try and find an upside to drought, perhaps the only one is that it can provide an opportunity to rebuild the herd and the business” said Mr McLean. “Whilst there is a lot that can’t be done ’til there is a break in the season, there is a lot of planning for drought recovery that can be done beforehand.”

Mr McLean encouraged attendees to consider the following questions when planning their recovery:

  • What will maximise the profitability of your business in the long term?
  • What is the long-term carrying capacity of your station?
  • What is the best herd profile for you?

Ms Alison Kain, Climate Mate for the Barkly, provided an explanation of the climate outlook for the October to December period specifically for the Alice Springs Aregion. “The chance of exceeding the median rainfall during the final quarter of 2019 is approximately 35-45%” said Ms Kain. “Historically, the forecast at this time of year has mostly been correct.” Ms Kain recommended that attendees of the Beyond the dry times field day download and familiarise themselves with the Australian CliMate app.

Jason Hill, Land Assessment Branch of the NT Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) discussed land resource mapping that is available to beef producers in the southern region. The mapping that DENR can provide to producers upon request can be of great assistance when prioritising infrastructure development opportunities. “We have excellent baseline information for land management including calculating areas of pastoral land types and can be the first point of call for potential development opportunities” Mr Hill said.

A summary of the wild dog management study was presented by Will Dobbie, from DENR. “We all want to mitigate the negative impacts of wild dogs upon cattle. Although most producers rely on 1080 baiting to help protect young cattle, there is a range of strategies that can be used. Our aim was to identify if there was a clear approach to wild dog management that was more effective than others” Mr Dobbie said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to identify a clear relationship between estimated calf loss and baiting levels, expenditure on wild dog control, time spent on wild dog control or co-ordinated baiting with neighbours.”

Dr Kieren McCosker, Senior Scientist, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, provided an overview of the rate and cause of calf loss that was measured in the CashCow project for the Northern Downs land types. “The achievable minimal rate of calf loss in the Northern Downs country type was about 5% for mature cows however 35% of stations experience 15% or more” Dr McCosker explained. “Reducing calf wastage to achievable levels may be complex, require professional advice and may take several years, but it is obtainable by using a number of key principles such as managing the feedbase to make sure feed and water quality is sufficient, control major diseases such as vibrio and pestivirus and culling cows with defect teats, for example.”

Christine Purdy, Project Manager from Meat & Livestock Australia, provided an overview of the importance of animal welfare in an environment of changing community attitude. “We know that 10% of people rate animal welfare as the primary reason to stop eating meat (up from 2% in 2010) and that animal welfare is amongst the top three considerations for consumers when making buying decisions.” Dr Purdy then continued to explain how advances in technology will contribute to being able quantify animal welfare and how this may be used by industry to promote consumer confidence.

The field day also featured animated panel discussions about each of the key topics of business, animal welfare and Northern Territory government research.

Field days are important component of the department’s extension program.

They facilitate:

  • the uptake of research and technology on farm to improve outcomes for Northern Territory producers
  • two way discussion between producers and researchers to provide significant insight into each other’s perspectives
  • networking opportunities between producers to discuss shared challenges, solutions and ideas.

More information about each of the presentations provided at the Beyond the dry times field day can be found in the field day booklet: Beyond the dry times field day booklet (PDF, 3.08 MB).

Organisers of the field day would like to sincerely thank Meat & Livestock Australia, the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, Landmark, Territory Rural, Bayer and Northern Territory Government for their sponsorship and support.