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Pasture could hold key to drought-proof grazing

Charlie McKillop, Friday August 15, 2014 - 14:04 EST
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Glen and Cheryl Connolly show Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh how improvements have boosted their productivity. - ABC

A Georgetown grazier has delivered a blunt message to the Queensland Government about why northern cattlemen need a hand up, not a handout in the current drought.

At a time when politicians are looking at ways to assist the cattle industry and promote inland development in northern Australia, Glen Connolly believes they shouldn't lose sight of the value of grass to graziers.

Mr Connolly, who lives 400 kilometres west of Cairns in far north Queeensland, says pasture development has played a pivotal role in drought proofing his 19,500 hectare breeder property.

He says there's a compelling case of why the Government should go further with its amendments to tree clearing laws, which currently still precludes pasture expansion because it is not deemed a 'high value crop'.

"Without grass, you haven't got anything basically, it's a balancing act and everyone on their own piece of country have got to work out what the balance is.

"There's as much money to be gained in the cattle industry from pasture development as there is in irrigation and cropping.

"We've got a ready, established cattle industry here and I think there's huge benefits in the cattle industry if we were allowed to develop our high value, highly fertile soils and put improved pastures in there," he said.

"Some of our river frontages here are probably as good or equivalent to Central Queensland, as far as weight gain goes.

"Maybe leucaena and buffel could be introduced here in certain areas, so I would hope that's what will happen, that we'll be allowed to develop some of our highly fertile country."

He says what he's witnessed in the past decade has reaffirmed his belief tree clearing can be beneficial to sustainable land management, with less bare ground on developed areas resulting in less soil erosion and run-off.

"We're situated right on the Gilbert River and everyone's talking about silting up the rivers and dirt going out onto the reef and things like that.

"I think by developing the country we're going to be able to slow that process down, if not eliminate it.

"If you have a look in the areas we haven't developed and then look at the areas we have developed, they're just chalk and cheese.

"The amount of erosion, the amount of run off, the amount of soil disturbance in the undeveloped areas, you'd swear that somebody had been there with a plough and ploughed the ground at the end of the year and all that top soil ends up in the river," he said.

"Whereas in our developed areas, you haven't got any soil disturbance because the plant population is so strong and you are getting no soil movement anywhere."

When Glen and Cheryl Connolly lost cattle in the last major drought in 2002-2003, they realised they had to make some dramatic changes.

They've spent the past decade developing pastures and watering systems, fencing paddocks and introducing a sileage program to feed their breeder herd.

There's still more to be done on Blancourt Station, on the banks of the Gilbert River, but their work is starting to pay dividends, even in tough times.

"We have still got grass coverage here and our cows are still in pretty good order.

"All of our heifers are starting to calve now, so they're going to start to do it a little bit tough," he said.

"But if we hadn't done the improvements and put other waters in and our fencing program, we'd certainly be running a lot less cattle and we certainly wouldn't have fat cattle at this time of the year anyway."

Coinciding with a strong focus on genetic improvements and strict selection based on reproduction rates, Blancourt is now turning off 1,100 to 1,200 calves from a breeder herd of 1,500 head.

It's a rare grazing success story not lost on Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh who visited the property recently and has indicated he's very interested in ongoing trials of various crops, including pastures.


© ABC 2014

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