Pasture recovery bursts forth, but AACo tips long road ahead

AACo sees grass explosion, but tips long flood recovery road ahead


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The 195-year-old Australian Agricultural Company is already looking at post-flood restocking options, including moving cattle in from its Northern Territory stations

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As a burst of green growth starts emerging after an ocean of flooding in Queensland’s north west, beef producers now face the ironic prospect of needing more rain.

In many cases vast quantities of silt lie over pasture country smothering, or stalling, grass regrowth.

Big tracts of land have also been badly scalded by fast running currents up to four metres deep and need considerable time to re-seed and grow back.

We’ve already seen a good grass body response coming through in the past week and we’ve generally stopped feeding out hay - Hugh Killen, AACo

The extreme impact of the flooding, and the irony of the situation, are not lost on on Australian Agricultural Company managing director, Hugh Killen, whose big beef business had about 80,000 head of breeders, plus a fresh drop of calves caught by the phenomenal drenching early this month.

“We’ve already seen a good grass body response coming through in the past week and we’ve generally stopped feeding out hay,” he said.

The 195-year-old beef company was even looking at post-flood restocking options, including moving cattle in from its Northern Territory stations or the drought-dry Barkly Tablelands, as conditions allowed.

“But the pasture recovery very much depends on where you are and how much topsoil your station has lost,” Mr Killen said.

“And we will need some follow up rain soon in certain areas to clean up pastures.

“Fingers crossed, conditions will allow for some very good grass response within a couple of weeks.”

Flood cost will linger

But Queensland's northern beef producers would probably take a full year to tally up the real flood damage cost and at least three years to see cattle numbers recover - maybe a decade for stud herds.

Two weeks ago, after flying over about 400 kilometres of water from Julia Creek east of Mt Isa, to Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, Mr Killen advised the stock market how AACo expected “extreme” losses to its 30,000-strong herd on Wondoola Station south of Normanton.

It tipped “lower, but still material losses” on three other properties further south.

We found 1000 head of cattle we didn’t expect to see again, and rescued a Wagyu bull from one of the deepest flood channels - Hugh Killen

“Our initial assessment was probably about right, but we’re only now getting access to a lot of country to get a better idea," he said.

“We absolutely do have the problem we expected, although there are still some surprising good news stories which emerged and gave our people a boost.

“We found 1000 head of cattle we didn’t expect to see again, and rescued a Wagyu bull from one of the deepest flood channels.

“I don’t know how he survived - he must have climbed a tree.”

“Unfortunately, neighbours with much smaller herds than ours have lost just about every animal.”

AACo was looking at possibly agisting its cattle on neighbouring stations in the Gulf to take advantage of the body of feed emerging and help provide some cash flow to others.

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Mr Killen was worried about the financial impact on communities in north west Queensland and keen for the business to provide as much help as possible.

AACo contributed to covering fuel costs for recent convoys of trucks delivering hay to the flooded north.

At the same time, however, Mr Killen said it was “extraordinarily humbling” for the big company to be a recipient of donated fodder trucked in from South Australia, Victoria and southern NSW to help feed stranded cattle.

Flood was expected

Before six days of non-stop rain arrived early this month, including an eight-hour period which delivered the equivalent of a year’s average rainfall, AACo had actually been continuing a program of long term preparations for a major flood.

We were pretty much prepared for a flood of biblical proportions, but not something as big as this - Hugh Killen

As part of its strategy to build flood-free zones in expectation of a big wet season, refuge banks and elevated road areas had been established to withstand water levels similar to the record 1974 wet.

When this month’s flooding did hit it was flowing up to two metres over some of those higher points, leaving cattle standing waist-deep, or swimming, or washed away.

“As one of our guys told me, we were pretty much prepared for a flood of biblical proportions, but not something as big as this.”

Mr Killen returns the Gulf country further assessing the crisis repair process next week.

AACo has about 500,000 cattle on 21 properties spread from southern Queensland to NT and WA.

While geographic diversity provided insurance against seasonal adversity, much of its portfolio has experienced weather quite the opposite to the Gulf's huge wet.

"Central and southern Queensland are dry, the Barkly is very dry and the northern wet season has been late for two years."

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