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ARTICLES >> Environment Articles

Managing a Variable Climate - On-Farm Strategies

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 06 2012

During 2009 and 2010 Bestprac has been delivering a FarmReady Industry Grant Project; “Implementing new practices to manage climate change variability in the Australian Pastoral Zone”.


This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry under the FarmReady initiative, part of Australia’s Farming Future.

In late 2010, a report was prepared for this project - Best practice case studies and climate change management strategies, and future climate change training needs for the Australian pastoral zone. This report is available on the Bestprac website.

This report focuses on a number of strategies which are being implemented by producers to adapt to climate change in the Australian pastoral zone. Of value to producers are the on-farm case studies that provide real examples of the ways that a number of businesses have changed in response to drought and climate issues. These case studies are profiled below and are available to download as individual case studies.

On-farm Case Studies

Although some pastoral businesses remain unsure about the reality of climate change; many are already developing strategies to manage climate change. These strategies are varied and are often developed within a complex pastoral system which means there is no one strategy that will suit all pastoral businesses. The case studies demonstrate how different producers are applying these strategies on-farm.

Ben and Susan Carn - Technological Strategy

The business crops around 800ha each year and runs around 3000 merino ewes, at Quorn SA. In addition it runs an on-farm tourism enterprise and an opportunity sheep feedlot.Ben Carn and son Ben Jnr

The vision of the business is to: “Improve productivity and professionalism, manage debt and continue to improve and expand the property to achieve a good level of income and a quality lifestyle for ourselves and our youngest son who is coming into the business.”

The average rainfall for the property is 312mm but the average over the last ten years has only been 260 mm. The low rainfall has impacted on the business:

  • Crop yields have been low and in some years no grain has been harvested from some paddocks.
  • Lambing percentages have been lower than ideal which has impacted on the number of stock sold.
  • Cash flow has been significantly impacted in poor seasons, leading to difficulties in managing debt and repayments.

Adaptation and resilience to climate change are demonstrated in the following ways:

  • Tourism income is less connected to rainfall than the other business enterprises and so this provides a more constant income stream in poor rainfall years.
  • Tourism income is not reliant on the fortunes of the local population; tourists generally travel from Adelaide or beyond.
  • The feedlot allows the business to finish their sale sheep, regardless of the paddock conditions. The business is also able to trade in sheep and take opportunity of low feed grain prices to finish stock.
  • The reduced dependence on cropping income has provided more resilience to climate variability as the sheep enterprise is not impacted to the same level as cereal crops in dry seasons.
  • The positive achievements of the range of innovations and new enterprises have allowed for the business flexibility; therefore Ben and Susan have remained optimistic, even during particularly tough seasons.

Read Full case study  

Graham and Cathy Finlayson - Environmental Strategy
Graham Finlayson
Rotational grazing of cattle and farm tourism, Brewarrina NSW.

Vision for the business: “To provide our family with the means to live the lifestyle that we want to live”.

The average rainfall for Bokhara is 380 to 400mm but currently the property has a 725mm rolling average. We have experienced the two extremes as we have totally destocked four times since 2002. And we have experienced good seasons, as in 07/08, we received 11 inches in one day and, in December 2009, we received 15 inches in that week.

Graham often states that “we know that our rainfall is reliably unreliable”.

The climate has had quite a significant impact as it made us re-think our direction. Ultimately it meant that we changed to an intensive planned grazing system, in 2001, and diversified into tourism by setting up the shearer’s quarters as Bokhara Hutz station stay.

In 2001, a friend gave Graham a copy of Allan Savoury’s book to read. Graham remembers being very frustrated and in need of a change before he read the book. In 2002, he completed the Grazing for Profit course and spent four years as a member of the Executive Link. Using this information plus the feedback from the Executive Link, he and Cathy commenced setting up Bokhara for a new grazing management system with a view to “regenerate” the landscape.

The first steps taken were to fence seven cells and close off the ground tanks. Over the next ten years, 100 paddocks of 60ha in size have been created using approx. 200km of divisional fencing.

The farm stay Bokhara Hutz was also established which meant purchasing/renovating and building a number of structures at the shearer’s quarters.

Read full case study 

John Parnell - Environmental Strategy

The business of Glenroy Estate is running a self-replacing merino sheep flock, located in the southern Flinders Ranges area, SA.

Vision for the business: To always operate the business in an environmentally responsible manner, giving due regard to both the environment and the need for a financial return.

The major impact of climate variability on Glenroy Estate is the lack of rainfall from 1999 to 2010. These years have not had sufficient rainfall to provide sufficient moisture for growth of native grasses; therefore it has been impossible to maintain the most basic flock numbers. Glenroy destocked over this period to around 20% of the normal flock size. 2009/10 brought much improved conditions exceeding the mean.

A flow on effect from the variability of rainfall has been in the nutritional value of native grasses grown. The grasses, when tested, revealed different protein measurements which were dependent upon the amount of rain, and the time of the year the rain fell. Therefore the value of the grasses to production on Glenroy Estate varied considerably.

Two plantations of Old Man Saltbush (OMS) were planted over a three year period, totalling an area of 2,000acres/809hectares. 1.7 million seedlings were planted. The area was split into 102 smaller paddocks and a water reticulation system was installed. Generally, each watering point serviced four paddocks allowing for the transfer of stock from one paddock to another by opening and closing gates at the appropriate time. At the same time water diversion banks were designed and constructed to allow, where possible, areas of OMS to receive additional water.

Key achievements in this journey have not all been physical.

The first achievement was the recognition that change was needed at Glenroy Estate to achieve two goals. The first was that the size of the property was not sufficient to continually make a profit from the enterprise. So change was required to make a profit in most if not all situations.

The next key achievement was the recognition that in any change being implemented, such change could not, by law, have any detrimental effect on any stakeholder, including the environment. This was particularly challenging.

Read full case study 

Harvey family - Economic Strategy

Eric Harvey - Photo courtesy of The Land newspaperAustralia’s climate has always been variable, no more so than the last decade. Eric, Wendy, Luke and Karissa Harvey are key members of a four generational family farm operation near Dubbo, in Central West NSW, who are adept at managing their land across a range of climatic conditions, often occurring in the one year.

Photo courtesy of The Land newspaper 

The Gilgai’s is an aggregation of some 2800ha and holistically managed with a strong focus on soil health, replenishment of biodiversity and leading edge regenerative farming and grazing practices; profitable, regenerative for the land and also good for the people.

The family also takes immense pride in producing healthy and nutritious quality grass-fed beef and lamb direct to the consumer. This is a thriving new and value added enterprise and which captures additional benefits for their Holistic approach to management. The farm is home to the growing of cereal crops, native hardwoods and eucalypt Mallee, and grazing of a 300 cow Simmental beef herd and 2000 fine/superfine merino ewes.

However it is the grazing management approach taken by the family that has allowed them to both survive and prosper through the last decade of unreliable rainfall. A focus has been placed on the maintenance of ground cover, a capacity to design their production around nature and a strong focus on native pastures.

Read full case study

Justin and Julie McClure - Economic Strategy

Kallara is 48,000ha located on the Darling River flood plain at Tilpa, Western NSW.

Vision for the business: To move our business forward, by further enhancing its vertical integration and exploring and developing potential marketing concepts for our products.

Opportunistic cropping occurs in wet years only as adequate soil moisture for planting requires the cropping area to be flooded by the Darling River. Crops such as organic safflower are planted if there is adequate soil moisture.

We moved from 120 years of growing wool (30,000 Merino ewes) including embracing concepts such as Soft Rolling Skin (SRS) wool production, micron scanning, forward selling and contract selling wool direct to mill and becoming organically certified to White Dorper lamb production.

We diversified into farm tourism in 1992 and undertook contract work and also established a goat depot.

In the last ten years, we have converted our property from a wool growth enterprise to a meat growing enterprise. The basis of this change was shifting from a Merino enterprise to a White Dorper enterprise.

Our business is now resilient as we are now breeding sheep that can withstand extreme dry periods and still produce a saleable product. We have also developed an integrated market for our lamb. Our contracting and farm tourism will assist us during the dry periods when we will have to reduce our stock numbers.

Read full case study

Last changed: Feb 07 2012



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