Northern Grazing Systems

The Northern Grazing Systems projects investigated grazing management in the presence of climate change, exploring issues like stocking rates, grazing distribution, infrastructure development, wet season spelling and the use of fire to control woody weeds.

For more information, please read the following final report summaries and download the final reports from the Meat & Livestock Australia website:

An analysis of the grazing systems in northern Australia was undertaken to determine what activities were required to develop this project. Three major components identified were 1) synthesis of relevant scientific information on stocking rate, spelling, fire and intensity of infrastructure development, 2) regional assessment of current best practices and property profiles, and 3) a bio-economic framework combining the biophysical model GRASP and an economic analysis tool.

In this project two existing simulation models, GRASP and ENTERPRISE were enhanced, and used these alone and in combination to evaluate current and candidate ‘best practice’ management options for extensive grazing lands across 6 regions in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The main management options of interest were stocking rate, pasture spelling and fire management. Regions included the Victoria River District, Burdekin woodlands, Fitzroy woodlands, Mitchell grasslands of western Queensland, Mitchell grasslands of the Barkly region, and the Maranoa-Balonne woodlands. Regional workshops with local technical specialists and producers guided and evaluated model outputs.

Modelled scenarios of different degrees of stocking rate variability over time suggested that annual increases and decreases of around 10-25% per year in total stock numbers per property, in line with changing pasture availability, give improved financial outcomes as well as ensuring good pasture condition. Simulations within specific climate windows can produce results where fixed stocking rates perform better than some degree of variation, but these do not appear to be common. Testing of various wet season spelling regimes suggested that spelling for at least 6 months in a four-year period provided accelerated improvement in pasture condition on the spelled paddocks. If animals from the spelled paddocks were accommodated on other paddocks, however, adverse impacts could occur on these stocked-up paddocks if they experienced successive years of higher than safe utilisation levels. Net benefits of spelling regimes for the whole property can therefore be less than expected. Testing of various fire regimes suggested that use of fire to manage unwanted woody vegetation is economic when woody cover is sufficient to be impacting pasture production but not so dense as to be preventing its regular use (through lack of fuel).

In this project published research results relating to four management factors [infrastructure development (fences and water points), stocking rate management, pasture resting and prescribed burning] and other relevant literature were collated and reviewed. This information was used to develop a set of scientifically-based principles and guidelines for managing grazing lands in northern Australia.

The principles and guidelines were applied to four widespread management issues – matching feed supply and animal demand, managing C condition land, woody plant problems, and utilising ungrazed areas in large paddocks. In the short term, the combination of this information with results of bio-economic modelling and regionally specific information from Project B.NBP.0578 will provide a solid foundation for future research and extension activities.   In the longer term, we can anticipate that grazing land management will be more appropriate for northern Australian conditions and there will be financial benefits to producers, land will be in better condition, and the northern beef industry will be more sustainable.

This project aimed to assist the northern beef industry to prepare for climate change by providing a cross-regional analysis of vulnerability to climate change and ways of enhancing adaptive capacity. It was to help representatives of the beef industry (both producers and government) to develop and implement climate adaptation strategies and policies. The project systematically evaluated and identified agro-ecological, economic and social factors contributing to vulnerability and the effectiveness of actions that could be taken to address them. Many of the findings support existing initiatives to improve resilience in the industry, adding further motivation for efforts to improve stocking rate management and improve land condition (although these will need to be supplemented with measures for coping with arising unique new climate challenges). Results also highlight the benefit of improving strategic planning skills and networking among producers.


Findings from these projects contributed to the development of the Climate Savvy Grazing project and the ongoing Climate Clever Beef project. To learn more about Climate Savvy Grazing, please read the final report summary and download the final report (B.NBP.0616) (PDF, 744.0 KB) from Meat & Livestock Australia.


When: 15 September 2008 to 1 May 2012

Contact: Joe Scanlan and David Phelps

Collaborators: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, AgForce, CSIRO, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia and Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade  and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Useful link: Learn more about grazing land management.