THREE intrepid Collinsville grazing operations are preparing to break new ground with a fresh approach to production.
Led by NQ Dry Tropics, the natural resource management body for the Burdekin Dry Tropics region, the three-year project will enlist the land managers of Sonoma, Tabletop and Glenalpine to implement and monitor holistic land management grazing systems on their properties. Colleen James, sustainable agriculture program co-ordinator at NQ Dry Tropics, said the project blossomed after more than 15 grazing properties were represented at a Collinsville workshop in February 2013.
"The holistic management workshop really created a lot of interest from graziers and it gave us the opportunity to follow it up by applying for Queensland government funding, which we were lucky enough to receive," Ms James said.
"The funding has really given us a boost and allowed us to go ahead with this great project."
Ms James said the aim of the ongoing project was to bring graziers together from across the state and give them a true example of how holistic management could work on their own properties.
"We've seen this type of management work in many parts of the world, but it's hard for our graziers to imagine it working here in such variable climate.
"This project will hopefully give them that chance so they can go back and start to implement holistic techniques.
"We will also have a series of remote monitoring cameras set up to give access for people to view the ongoing changes online.
"There's always going to be drought and we have to start to think about different ways to drought-proof our properties."
The holistic approach looks at the financial, social and grazing management of the business and has a long list of expected financial, enterprise and natural resource benefits.
One of the three participants looking forward to the change is Shane Watts, property manager at Sonoma Station near Collinsville.
"I strongly believe the beef industry needs to think outside the square with grazing management," Mr Watts said.
"We are keen to be involved in anything that has a positive impact on sustainability and profitability."
Workshop facilitators Tom and Karen Murphy of Tabletop said they were looking forward to the seeing the difference from holistically managing their property.
"Holistic management sounds like commonsense but it seems to go against everything we have done and learnt in the past," Mr Murphy said.
"Even though we all struggle with change, we thought it might fit in with what we want to do on Tabletop."
Many graziers will be interested in the plans, which will include higher stock numbers during the growing season and a specific grazing plan for the dry season depending on the available feed at the
end of the wet. A feature of the approach is high grazing impact for short periods followed by pasture rest and recovery.
The aim of the high-impact grazing practice is to encourage improved rainfall infiltration, higher nutrient inputs from the grazing animals and a change in pasture composition and quality.
Glenalpine Station manager Barry O'Sullivan, 2013 Reef Rescue Grazier Award winner and recent recipient of the 2014 Premier's Sustainability Rural Award, said the main aim for him was to improve the soil quality on his property.
"We want to have a better quality and quantity of pasture," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"This will enable us to produce more kilograms per hectare, reduce our exposure to drought and maintain a consistently profitable business."
Barry and his wife Leanne own and manage a 23,385-hectare property south west of Bowen and often open their property in partnership with the grazing BMP program in order to run catchment-wide educational workshops and trials.
Rodger Savory of Savory Grassland Management will guide the participants in the development of comprehensive property plans based on the holistic management approach.
Mr Savory has demonstrated the financial and grazing successes of the approach in southern and central Africa, North America and more recently across eastern Australia.
"The first thing we do is forming a context because without it people don't understand what their management motivation is," Mr Savory said.
"If we establish a context by asking people what they want for their future - socially, economically and environmentally - then they can begin.
"This is the basis for holistic management and we believe we've got a model that's working around the world and working for people."
Mr Savory said it was encouraging to see graziers willing to share the process of developing a holistic management project with the community.
"People need to come together to produce more food and we're sharing knowledge about how we can do that.
"Mathematically, you can double a cattle herd in six years, but we've got to work toward this on a national scale and this project can be used as a model for government to see that it can be done, and for them to use it on a larger scale."
To give the graziers a better handle on any land condition changes that might result, NQ Dry Tropics will establish a number of soil and pasture monitoring sites, including the use of time lapse photography.
Field days will also be held on the properties over the coming years to allow neighbours, other graziers and the public to see the new ideas in action and observe any changes in productivity under the new systems.