Recipe for resilience
Two advisors who work with northern producers to build sustainable, profitable enterprises share their insights on positioning livestock, land and people to endure extreme circumstances and minimise business upheaval.
Resilient livestock and land
As Flood Recovery Coordinator with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, David Phelps has some practical tips to get grazing businesses back on track.
“A resilient grazing business has its animal production system performing to its potential, regardless of the situation,” David said.
“For example, breeder numbers might be destocked down to 10%, but the producer is managing cow condition to maintain good calving rates so they’re in a position to react when conditions change for the better.”
He said when seasonal conditions enable restocking, a measured approach and willingness to adapt are crucial.
This could include:
- trading cattle to maintain positive cash flow until breeding numbers are rebuilt
- exploring opportunities to manage an increase in numbers, such as buying pregnancy‑tested in‑calf cows or heifers.
“A resilient grazing business also has country in good condition, so it’s ready to respond better to rainfall,” David said.
While land in A or B condition is the aim, he said erosion following last year’s heavy rains and flooding means many areas in the north are now in C condition.
“As a rough guide, C condition land has half the long‑term carrying capacity of A condition land,” David said.
The intense, concentrated rain event in January and February last year also knocked around pasture response.
“Northern producers would normally expect to grow 2,500 kg of dry matter (DM) per hectare on 600 mm of wet season rain, but the response in flood‑affected areas has only been around 500 kg DM/ha.
“On a positive note, property surveys after the flooding identified high levels of Mitchell grass seedlings, so it’s important to give paddocks a long wet season spell until after Mitchell grass goes to seed in March or later, depending on the season.”
Resilient people and processes
A resilient grazing business is one which can take advantage of unexpected opportunities as well as survive unexpected negative circumstances, according to NT‑based business advisor and agricultural economist Rebecca Mohr‑Bell from ArGyll Consulting.
Rebecca is the NT/WA coordinator for MLA’s Profitable Grazing Systems program.
“A resilient business knows its strengths and limitations, is proactive about risk management and planning, and is willing to be flexible when required,” she said.
She said challenges are a case of “when, not if”, so preparation is essential.
“Having up‑to‑date information at your fingertips allows you to make decisions quickly and confidently when an emergency does occur, whether it’s about weather, markets or people.”
Here are some practical strategies to help with decision making.
- Maintain an up‑to‑date budget and operating plan
These documents should reflect personal and business strengths and weaknesses as well as available resources (land, livestock, people and money).
Know your cost structures, where fat can be trimmed from the business and how any cost cuts would affect production. For example, cutting a supplement budget will reduce growth and reproduction.
“A budget is not a static document, it’s a flight plan,” Rebecca said.
“If you have to detour, it provides a way back, but if you don’t regularly look at it, you could end up lost or going in circles.”
Northern producers can attend MLA’s Business EDGE workshop to enhance their knowledge and skills in basic financial and business management to improve efficiency and profitability.
- Maintain accessible and up‑to‑date information
This includes livestock numbers, property maps (including pipelines and underground electricity) and financial documents such as wills and insurance policies. Store copies offsite or online so they can be accessed if the homestead or office is destroyed or inaccessible.
The FarmMap4D Spatial Hub provides land managers with data and mapping tools to develop accurate digital property plans and infrastructure maps.
- Protect your business with wills, succession plans and on‑farm policies
“People often think preparing a will or succession plan means they’re handing over control – or others think they’re at death’s door and no longer useful – but it’s really about protecting your family and business,” Rebecca said.
Other formal plans are just as important for risk management, including:
Workplace health and safety: Don’t underestimate the cost of poor workplace safety and not having the right paperwork and procedures, such as staff, contractor and visitor inductions. A major accident or death on property is not only stressful for everyone involved but the compensation and legal implications could send a business under.
Biosecurity plans: Establishing quarantine paddocks for livestock or weed wash-down bays for vehicles minimise the risk of disease, weed and pest incursions and could save a lot of time and money down the track.
- Build support networks
“When you have a team of people involved, it forces you to stop and consider areas of opportunity, growth and threats on a regular basis – before small problems become big ones.
“It’s the job of your trusted advisors to be on top of developments in their area of speciality and know your business well enough to identify where new advances can be useful,” Rebecca said.
“It’s just as vital to have a personal support network, especially during and after extreme circumstances.”
David Phelps, email: David.Phelps@daf.qld.gov.au
Rebecca Mohr-Bell, email: Rebecca@argyllconsulting.com.au
Profitable Grazing Systems: mla.com.au/pgs
This article was originally published in Meat & Livestock Australia’s Feedback magazine (December 2019/January 2020 edition).