Better Beef and Reef

The Australian Government Department of Environment (DoE) commissioned the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to identify key management practices that could be adopted by beef producers in the Fitzroy and Burdekin catchments adjoining the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), to improve their profitability and reduce their impact on the reef. The DoE also required DAF to recommend how more beef producers in these catchments could be encouraged to adopt better management practices (BMP).

The premise of this Better Beef and Reef project was that better cattle herd performance due to better management and better land condition would improve both the profitability of cattle properties and the quality of water entering the reef lagoon.

The major activities of this project were a beef producer workshop in Townsville, a beef industry stakeholder workshop in Rockhampton, a ‘Focus is on People’ webinar, and review of relevant literature.

Fundamental grazing land and herd best practices are a reliable supply of good quality drinking water for cattle, fence and water point locations that facilitate even grazing distribution, vaccinations, appropriate genetics, and matching cattle numbers with the long-term safe carrying capacity of the land. The two most critical higher-level practices are adjustments of stocking rates to align cattle numbers with variable feed supply, and controlled mating for more effective and efficient herd production. Other important higher-level practices are: sub-division of large paddocks, pasture spelling; segregation and targeted management of cattle classes; early weaning; and culling poor performing female cattle for cash flow and reduction of stocking rates in dry years.

Participants of workshops in Townsville and Rockhampton were of the opinion that while industry best practices are well known, many beef producers are not motivated to adopt them. Theories of adoption of new technologies indicate only 20% of any population readily adopt new products or practices. The remaining 80% of people are much slower to adopt, and generally wait until the technology is simple to use, low cost, proven and a “norm” within their community. Adoption of grazing land and herd BMP in the Fitzroy and Burdekin catchments is also likely to conform to this theory.

The irony of this challenge is that beef producers who have poor practices and performance, and hence the most to gain from BMP, are the least likely to adopt them. As in other populations of people, many beef producers do not seek information on land, herd and business management. For these reasons, they are not motivated to attend formal workshops which transfer information and skills on better herd and business management. Accordingly, participants of the Rockhampton workshop recommended reef RD&E programs focus more on people and their needs and less on information-transfer. They should redesign the purpose of BMP to make them more relevant to the personal values and goals of beef producers. Healthy land and pastures they are proud of, high quality and more valuable cattle, a happy and successful family, and more time to enjoy what they have built are themes that may motivate more beef producers to adopt BMP.

Adoption of best practices by beef producers is a socio-cultural activity. For most, adoption or rejection of new practices is strongly influenced by their family, the community in which they live and the networks in which they operate. Initially, beef producers have much uncertainty about adopting a new practice, and often only other beef producers they know personally and trust can give them credible reassurances about it. Similarly, trusted people in wider networks, and especially opinion leaders and industry champions, have a positive influence on adoption decisions. While advertising and media stories spread information about innovations, it is peer-peer conversations that spread adoption. As an innovation spreads from the early adopters to the majority audience, face-to-face communication becomes more essential to the decision to adopt. RD&E providers, therefore, need to exert their influence at the community level if they are to spread the adoption of industry best practices beyond the 20% of the population. It is critical that they are highly trusted, credible and legitimate providers of information within the community.

Social marketing, with its principles, strategic planning approaches, and its focus on changing behaviour, provides a reef RD&E framework for increasing the adoption of best practices by beef producers. Social marketing is a systematic and planned process, characterised by consumer orientation, segmentation and targeting, and extensive customer research to ensure that interventions are believable, relevant and motivating. Other factors, such as partnerships with key allies, stakeholder engagement, and monitoring and evaluation, are also important components of social marketing.
This report reconciles the literature on best management practice adoption with the views of beef producers and RD&E providers on the most effective means to achieve sustainable management of grazing land in river catchments adjoining the Great Barrier Reef.

When:  1 June 2014 to 30 March 2015

Contact: Lester Pahl

Collaborator: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

More information

To learn more, please download the final report (PDF, 1.18 MB). For information about Better Beef and Reef workshops please refer to the Better Beef and Reef Stakeholder Workshop final report (PDF, 693 kB)  or the Better Beef and Reef Beef Producer Workshop final report (PDF, 755 kB).