Goats help western Queensland graziers through the drought

Their milk and meat have made goats a prized possession for many — and now western Queensland producers are taking them on as they look to diversify because of the ongoing drought.

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High costs of feed and supplements have resulted in fewer cattle and sheep in the region, and graziers like Anita Dennis, from Blackall, have moved to goats.

Seven years ago, Ms Dennis and her husband Joe decided to take advantage of the rangeland goats that were already on their property.

The trial was so successful the family decided to scale back their cattle herd and make more room to breed goats.

“We began by wild harvesting out of the channels on our property, and then we started purchasing some goats in,” Ms Dennis said.

“We had a good base ground of our harvested goats before we started buying others — that was important.”

The family has been crossbreeding rangeland and pedigree Kalahari goats for several years to produce an animal capable of carrying more weight.

“The crossbreds are a lot more of a meat goat, which is what we are after because we are looking for a quick turnover of our goats,” Ms Dennis said. “A higher yielding carcass is what’s important, we can turn over some young bucks in 12 months.”

Barcaldine farmer Scott Counsell said an opportunity to introduce goats to his property arose when he was considering whether to continue destocking his cattle and sheep.

Once cluster fencing was in place, Mr Counsell introduced the goats and said he became impressed by their resilience.

He is now looking to increase numbers and bring in more rangeland goats from Wilcannnia in far western New South Wales.

Growing demand from export and domestic markets

According to figures from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), 2–2.5 million goats were supplied for processing nationally in the 2017-2018 financial year.

Goat prices are holding strong in the market, and with the industry having lower production costs per animal than other livestock, returns are strong despite the drought.

Australian goat market 2017:

  • 071 million slaughtered
  • Average carcass weight: 15.2kg
  • Export value: $257 million
  • Production total: 31,414 (28,426 exported, 2,988 domestic)
  • US dominates exports

Figures from Meat and Livestock Australia.

Goats are browsers and eat considerable tree and shrub leaves even when there is quality pasture on offer, which means they do not compete entirely for the same pasture as sheep and cattle.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s project manager for the goat industry Julie Petty said that despite the ongoing struggles in western Queensland, those turning to goats were seeing positive outcomes.

“We’re seeing record prices coming through to producers, it’s up above $5 a kilo carcass weight which is excellent returns,” Ms Petty said.

“For producers to get into the industry it can be a lot more cost effective than other breeds because there are rangeland animals easily available.”

Fencing could improve goat numbers

Western Meat Exporters managing director Campbell McPhee said that although the number of goats being processed had declined in western Queensland this year, mostly due to the conditions and wild dogs, more funding for cluster fencing would potentially see those numbers improve.

“With the Queensland investment into enclosed cluster fencing, and people looking to get small stock back into areas where small stock are suited, more people are looking into goats as an alternative,” Mr McPhee said.

“We are seeing a lot of encouraging signs of people restocking with goats so the future for goat presence in Queensland is quite strong.”

High demand for organic

Mr McPhee said there was also an opportunity for producers to move into the organic goat meat market.

With an increasing number of people wanting to know the origin of their food, there was a greater demand for organic meat.

“The emerging market for organic meat in goats is something that hasn’t been pushed strongly,” he said.

Mr McPhee said that goat prices should continue to remain high because they are not influenced by being tied to another market and are uniquely separate.

“We can definitely remain where we are pricewise — I think that’s what’s created the interest in the goat industry by more and more producers is our ability to hold those prices high and strong,” he said.

“The ability of the market to attract, and continue to attract, higher prices will remain. “As new markets come I can only see it going forward and [getting] stronger.”

Source: ABC Rural 2018-11

Moree district sees 10,000 hectares of dryland cotton planted

Rain has brought an amazing 10,000 hectare dryland cotton boost to the North West plains with many first-time cotton growers giving it a go.

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With a general 30 millimetres of soaking rain in the Moree district last week adding to previous falls, almost full moisture profiles have allowed the seeders to move on in and the cotton crops to start. Farmers wasted no time planting before conditions deteriorated for seed germination.

Cotton Seed Distributors agronomist Alice Curkpatrick said the rain had given dryland cotton a chance and growers were not holding back after most wheat crops had failed in winter.

“Anything up to 10,000ha broadacre has been planted,” she said.  “It was nice gentle rain, but soil moisture is pretty varied. They are getting into sowing pretty quickly. It’s a good time to plant, those planted a little bit later do a little bit better.”

The area planted ran from Gurley, Bellata up to Boomi and Mungindi. Most were planting 748 variety. There was no problem with seed availability, but growers had to get their orders in early for seed to be treated.

At Gurley, south of Moree, fourth generation farmers Lachie and Angus Smith have just finished planting 370ha of dryland cotton on their property Coffin Hill.

This is the first time the Smiths have planted dryland cotton. They decided to give it a go off the back of having no winter harvest this year. They’ve also got sorghum and corn summer crops. The dryland cotton has been planted in 1.5 metre rows.

“[We decided to try dryland cotton] because this year was so dry, we didn’t have a winter crop; we saved a lot of overhead costs by having a seeder ready to go,” Angus Smith said. The Smiths had a pretty full profile for planting and had “spare acres and needed something to fill it”.

“Dryland cotton is also a good marketing choice at the moment with the high prices, so we thought we better get on board. We’ve got three quarters of a profile, so we just need continued rain now. If we could get five inches (125mm) throughout summer we could get a decent crop.”

AMPS agronomist Tony Lockrey, Moree, said the gamble on more rain was worth it considering cotton was sitting at about $600 a bale. He applauded the Smiths return to the family farm – a new phenomenon of young people taking on farming throughout the district when many were asking who would be running farms in 10 years.

The Smiths already had a Norseman twin disc planter with seed sensors down the seed slots they could use for the cotton. They’d also picked up a contract in the district to seed a cotton crop.

“They are planting into a full profile. They have enough moisture to give them a bale a hectare. They need 1.6 bales to break even, so if they pick up some rain in January and February, say a couple of 50mm drops, that could take them over the two bales a hectare, possibly 2.5, which would be a very good return compared to other commodities at the moment,” Mr Lockrey said.

At Gunnedah, the good rain of over 70mm in some areas, has done little to help summer cropping. Pursehouse agronomist Matt Roseby said only 30 per cent of the normal sorghum area around Mullaley was in. There were no sunflowers. The rain would only give existing crops some secondary roots.

A deluge hit the Illawarra and the north of the South Coast on Wednesday.

Source: The Land 2018-11

Feedback Sought on draft Floodplain Harvesting Monitoring and Auditing Strategy

NSW Department of Industry is proposing a new Floodplain Harvesting Monitoring and Auditing Strategy for NSW.

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The draft strategy will monitor and audit floodplain extractions against floodplain harvesting entitlements to ensure harvesting activities remain within account limits and rules.

Improved measurement of floodplain extraction will benefit licensees and allow the NSW Government to better manage agreed water sharing arrangements.

This will improve water supply reliability for downstream water users and the environment.

When finalised, the strategy will apply to all landholders who receive a floodplain harvesting access licence that allows them to extract water from floodplains under the floodplain harvesting licensing framework.

Once finalised the strategy will allow for the first time monitoring of overland flow harvesting. It is a key requirement of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy 2018 and Murray-Darling Basin Water Compliance Review.

More information:

 Source: NSW Government 2018-11

Stone fruit season suffering from extreme weather events and low consumer demand

Drought, hailstorms and high winds are just some of the challenges Australia’s stone fruit growers have had to battle this season.

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And if national consumer demand does not increase, many growers might have to sell their fresh produce without making a profit.

Stone fruit grower Michael Trautwein grows the full range of stone fruit on their 80-hectare orchards in the Riverland, South Australia, and said high winds caused severe damage to apricots and wind rub on nectarines and peaches.

Besides the high winds, cold nights and frosty weather during the flowering period also lead to fruit damage.

“That showed up in some of the early varieties, where we have had more split stones and in particular shattered stones in the fruit causing rejections of this fruit,” Mr Trautwein said.

Chairman of Summerfruit Australia, Andrew Finlay, said it has been very challenging for farmers across all growing regions.

There were been significant crop losses caused by vigorous weather in SA, New South Wales, Victoria and southern Queensland, where production volumes for the start of the season were down.

Dried Tree Fruits Australia chairman and grower, Kris Werner, said the high winds caused some damage at his property stripping fruit off the trees and causing blemishes.

In addition to extreme weather events farmers across all stone fruit growing regions have seen the impacts of very dry conditions.

The need for more irrigation to produce fruit increased production costs, which Mr Werner said was getting more and more concerning.

“We are all nervous because it hasn’t rained,” he said.

“We were hoping to have water left to carry over because next year is going to be very challenging water wise.”

Consumers urged to buy more

Despite difficult seasonal conditions to grow stone fruit, growers are concerned about the stagnant consumer demand on the domestic market.

Mr Trautwein said Australian growers sold about 80 to 85 per cent of their product domestically.

Mr Finlay said demand for stone fruit has been sitting relatively flat for the last few years.

“Peaches and nectarine prices are down at around $3 per kilo and that will return to growers around $2.40 per kilo — it’s really right down to cost of production,” he said.

“It’s still early in the season … and there is very little margin for growers and the only way to improve that is to increase production.

“It makes a huge difference to the amount of fruit that moves through the system and that helps farmers in a very direct way to get through this challenging time.”

This year’s fruit looks promising

Mr Trautwein said one major focus of Australia’s stone fruit industry moving ahead is eating quality.

“The single biggest challenge is eating quality of our product and the effect that has on consumer demand on the domestic market,” he said.

“The industry is working closely through it’s industry levies with the supermarket chains to understand consumer preferences.”

Mr Finlay said getting good eating quality generally requires more inputs such as extra time to allow the fruit to get to its optimum stage.

“But when the price that you are receiving becomes very close to cost of production, then it is really hard to justify that extra expense when you are not really being paid much extra for it,” he said.

This season, despite some smaller fruit size coming onto the market, eating quality appears to be good.

“Because of the dry it is always more difficult to get good size but the upside of that, the fruit quality is usually very, very good,” Mr Finlay said.

Source: ABC Rural 2018-11

Queensland Competition Authority closes irrigation pricing submissions

An irrigation pricing review being led by the Queensland Competition Authority which allowed producers to have their say has now closed to comments.

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Initial submissions for the review, which will examine prices for water supply schemes run by Sunwater and Seqwater, closed on Friday.

The state government announced the review in October amid statewide concerns about the cost of electricity and water for primary industries.

Dam safety upgrades and the incorporation of insurance costs into water pricing are expected to be two of the more contentious issues on the table during the review.

Queensland Farmers’ Federation spokesman Ian Johnson has described the review as a mixed bag, with some schemes likely to feel a small impact and others set to be significantly affected by changes.

Terms of reference released by the Queensland Competition Authority showed dam safety would be a key aspect of the review.

The authority has been directed to present two price options to the government, one incorporating the cost of dam safety upgrades, the other without.

The cost of these safety upgrades could be substantial, with SunWater currently planning a series of 16 dam improvement projects across the state.

There were concerns that dam safety costs and the cost of flood mitigation would be shouldered by irrigating farmers, LNP natural resources spokesman Dale Last has said.

Water services provided by Burnett Water in relation to the Paradise Dam in Bundaberg have been specifically ruled out of the review.

Submissions were made by visiting the Queensland Competition Authority’s website.

Source: Queensland Country Life 2018-11

Concerns raised about horticultural growth in the Sunraysia region

A senior Goulburn Murray Water manager has raised concerns the Sunraysia region is facing a serious shortfall in the amount of irrigation water for permanent horticultural plantings.

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Northern Victorian Resource manager Dr Mark Bailey told the Australian Water Brokers Association annual general meeting, in Melbourne, said Agriculture Victoria modelling had shown projected, or existing almond plantings, would require 1500Gigalitres a year, by 2027.

“In a dry year, there will be no water for half of that predicted expansion,” Dr Bailey said.

“Someone is going to be really, really unhappy, in 2027, if we are in a dry period,” Dr Bailey said.

“How that’s going to pan out is not something I want to contemplate,” Dr Bailey said.

Basin change

Dr Bailey said the higher risk, now facing irrigators, had been brought about by “a real period of change” in the operations of the Murray River and Southern Connected Basin.

Entitlement ownership had changed, as had the climate.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder now had the biggest water portfolio, in both the Murray and Goulburn systems.

But there was a less likelihood of environmental water being released to the market.

“Unless something changes, in terms of legislation, the CEWH is looking more at delivery rights, than they have in the past,” Dr Bailey said.

“If there is a lot of demand in the river, all at once, the water holder has tended to say ‘I’ll let the consumptive water go first, meet those orders, and I’ll step back as part of a good neighbour policy’,” Dr Bailey said.

“There is no guarantee that will continue in the future; the water holder has been making that clear.”

He said if that challenge arose, it was going to be “a very interesting space” as to what that meant and who had priority over water delivery.

The climate was also playing an increasingly important role.

“We have been getting less of that spring break, which is something I am getting increasingly annoyed about, but we are also seeing more rain occurring in summer.”

Lower Murray Water saw more development, along the Murray River, as private diverters converted former wheat farms into horticultural production.

He said some producers were pumping water up to 17 kilometres from the river.

“Goulburn-Murray Water is also interested in that because a lot of the water they are using is coming out of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.”

“It’s not an ideal situation, but that’s the way the market has developed.

“The climate is drier, and sunnier, and (the area) is really conducive to growing almonds.”

Capacity issues

He said it was likely the Sunraysia would again face capacity issues, as it did in January, this year, after a burst of hot weather.

“The river level fell by 300 millimetres, everyone was hooking in simultaneously, to get water to their trees,” Dr Bailey said. “That’s probably going to occur again, this year.”

Compounding the problem was decreased capacity to push water past the Barmah Choke, on the Murray.

“The capacity has fallen by about 1000Megalitres since 10 years ago, that’s primarily due to it being pushed so hard, it’s starting to erode the banks. “They are collapsing.

“It’s reaching a point where the banks are starting to break out, at certain points.

“At the moment, there is an overbank flow, through the flood runners, in the Barmah forest,” Dr Bailey said .

There were also concerns about putting too much water down the Goulburn, with both the regional catchment management authority and Victorian Environmental Water Holder worried about the ecological health of the river.

having an impact on the environmental health of the river

“That’s going to be a real problem if we find a limit as to how much water can be delivered,” Dr Bailey said.

“It won’t support all those developments occurring in the lower Murray.

“There hasn’t been an answer to that, and the Goulburn Catchment Management Authority is growing increasingly concerned.”

He said options to mitigate the risk included by-passing the Barmah Choke while taking water out of the Murrumbidgee and Menindee Lakes, was possible, but not likely.

GMW could also draw on Lake Boga, but because it had not been used for a while, salinity levels there were high.

“It’s going to be a real challenge, as to where the water is going to come from, to meet the demand,” Dr Bailey said. “It’s not painting a very rosy picture.”

Planning controls

And RiceGrowers’ Association of Australia president Jeremy Morton said the information should encourage debate about sustainable development.

“We’ve learnt a lot in existing irrigation areas and achieved a sustainable system,” Mr Morton said.

“It would be insanity to ignore all the painful lessons, learnt from decades past.”

He called for greater regulation, mainly by giving local government more planning power.

“You can’t just go and build a house wherever you like, is it any different to that,?” Mr Morton said.

He said local government was hamstrung by State government planning laws but should be able to ask questions around risk management.

“Surely part of the development application process should give consideration to the risk associated with it, or at least have a process of identifying and working through the risks,” Mr Morton said.

This was particularly relevant when it came to risks involved with reliable water supply.

“Ideally, government’s don’t want to be telling people how and where to invest, or what to invest in, but there are lots of things governments do regulate.

“I think everyone can see what’s happening, but no-one is doing anything about it.

“You can’t just say, let the market sort it out, we regulate lots of markets, so I don’t know why this is any different.”

Source: The Land 2018-11

Funding flows for Burnett water infrastructure

The Federal Government has committed $2 million toward a feasibility study that will investigate options for new infrastructure to increase water supply and security in the North and South Burnett.

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Acting PM and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack welcomed the feasibility study announcement, which forms part of a historic expansion of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, worth more than half a billion dollars.

The $500 million expansion of the fund will include a feasibility component of $30 million.

Feasibility studies will be used to support the Queensland Government finalise the design and approvals required to progress critical water infrastructure projects towards construction.

Mr McCormack said water is the life-blood of regional Australia and believes the funding will be a game changer for many communities.

“The $2 million we are committing for the Burnett regions’ feasibility study further demonstrates that we are getting on with the job of supporting communities to work with the States and Territories and Federal Government, to identify, plan and build new water infrastructure,” Mr McCormack said.

Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said water means wealth and jobs in the regions.

“As a former rural bank manager, I know the value of a megalitre of water to a rural community,” he said.

“We’re proud to be delivering water and wealth to rural communities.”

Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd said he hoped increased water security would help to drive economic and social growth in the region.

“The feasibility study is great news for farmers in the region as it will examine a range of options and identify solutions to increase water supply that would underpin an expansion of irrigated agriculture, delivering new jobs and economic growth in the North and South Burnett regions,” he said.

“Through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, we have committed over $426 million to get construction under way on a series of key water infrastructure projects in Queensland.

“This includes $54 million for Hells Gates Dam, $182 million for the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme, $176 million for Rookwood Weir, $11 million for the Mareeba-Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme and $3 million for the Nogoa Mackenzie Water Supply Scheme.

“We have also provided nearly $25 million for 15 feasibility studies to identify potential new water infrastructure projects that could increase water supply and security for farmers, businesses and communities in Queensland.”

The expansion brings the fund’s value to more than $1 billion, on top of the existing $2 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility program.

It will mean more than $3 billion is now available from the Federal Government to support State and Territory Governments and their project partners to build new water infrastructure, providing greater social and economic opportunity for Australians.

Source: South Burnett Times 2018-11

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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