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Staying afloat during a drought

Marty McCarthy, Wednesday August 7, 2013 - 10:46 EST
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Michelle and Michael Lyons of Wambiana Station in north Queensland. - ABC

A north Queensland grazing couple say having a diverse business model has helped them stay viable despite a struggling beef industry.

Michael and Michelle Lyons manage Wambiana Station near Charters Towers for the Lyons Family business.

Like many Queensland graziers they too have been hit hard by poor cattle prices due to an oversupplied beef industry.

But Michael and Michelle say having a number of environmental and business practices in place has helped them keep their farm afloat despite the tough times.

"One of the key things we try to do is to work with nature as much as possible," Michael said.

"We try to calve in sync with nature so when the calf demands more milk from its mother there's green feed available.

"We also try to de-stock early which is very hard to do because it means you take a lower price.

"We also try to segregate our breeder heard depending on the months the cows are going to calve.

"We only calve over a four month period and that allows them to manage the supplantation a lot better."

The Lyons have also implemented capital improvement programs at Wambiana Station and use strategic points to help with mustering and moving cattle.

Michelle says there are a number of other ways her business makes an income.

"We breed and sell fertile bulls, grow out steers and takes out agistment," she said.

"We also lease out property to another family business and to the Department of Agriculture for a grazing trial."

However, Michelle says the main source of diversification comes from agri-tourism through hosting school camps and American high school students.  

"Even though it's not a major source of income it's still a constant source regardless of other variables," she said.

Michael says the tourism component also takes pressure off cattle operations at Wambiana, meaning he can afford to run less cattle.

"It means we don't have to push the land as hard to generate a reasonable return," he said.

"It's easy to survive the good times but you need to be able to acquire the skills to survive the bottlenecks.

"This is a time for cutting costs and matching stocking rate to carrying capacity and trying to run a tight business."

Michelle says despite the diversity of Wambiana Station, it's a business model that has been built over generations.

"This isn't something that has happened in the last few years as a result of the live export ban or cattle prices softening," she said.

"These are things that started with Michael's parents to generate other forms of income.

"It's not easy to just say well now we'll go into tourism or do something radically different.

"All of that takes time, it takes money and it takes people.

"One of the blessings we've had is that we have people in the family who can take on various roles and do those things."

Michael says diversification is critical for keeping businesses viable in the long-term.

"For different people different things will suit them and their interests," he said. 

"But to have that second bow to your string is very beneficial particularly in these tough times.�


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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