On-Farm Options – Making Decisions
The EverGraze Exchange – Strategic Decisions, provides insights into the important considerations for farm decision-making. A process is described for producers to take stock of where they are at, where they want to be, and to establish options for change. Different options are assessed for their likely impact on financial, production, risk, environmental and lifestyle factors for individual farms. The process described forms the basis of a facilitated course – Whole Farm Grazing Strategies.
The Strategic Decisions Exchange is available for download here. A short summary is provided below.
Agriculture and farming is constantly evolving, with new information becoming available, new challenges occurring, changes in costs and returns, new expectations from consumers and customers and changing expectations for labour and lifestyle. Producers need to constantly assess whether their current pasture, soils, livestock, grazing and marketing systems and management are applicable to the current and future needs of the property, owner/manager, customers and wider community.
Customer and community views for what is ethical and acceptable change over time. For example, the use of chemicals, degradation of land and waterways, and animal welfare are all of significant importance to the community. Livestock producers must consider these changing attitudes and alter their production systems accordingly.
It is also important to take a long-term view and not change practices without good reason and careful consideration. For example changing to an alternative animal system in response to current prices needs to be carefully considered, as change is expensive and there is a risk that by the time the alternative system comes into production, the price advantage may have disappeared.
EverGraze Farming Systems – balancing profit, risk, environmental and lifestyle objectives
Running a profitable and sustainable livestock enterprise is all about optimising resources in an efficient production system that will remain profitable and resilient over the short and long term. The components of a livestock production system include soils, feedbase, management, livestock and marketing. As links in a chain, it’s important that all components are given emphasis as the overall system will be limited by the weakest link. For example an excellent grazing system will not overcome production loss due to poor soil fertility.
EverGraze designed and tested farming systems based on perennials, which combined best practice with new technology to significantly increase profits and reduce risk while addressing environmental concerns such as dryland salinity, erosion, soil health, acidity and biodiversity.
Both improved pasture (Hamilton, Wagga Wagga, Albany) and native pasture systems (Chiltern, Holbrook, Orange, Tamworth) were considered in EverGraze. All pastures included a significant legume component, either sown or encouraged by fertiliser application and grazing management.
Most sites used merino ewes joined to terminal sires and cattle were compared with sheep at Hamilton and Tamworth. In addition to the main research sites, a network of on-farm Supporting Sites gathered valuable farmer insights into how the new systems worked in practice.
Three key principles formed the basis of EverGraze farming systems;
- The right perennial plant put in the right place in the landscape, for the right purpose, with the right management, improves profitability, risk management and natural resource management simultaneously;
- Investing in perennials needs to be combined with highly productive livestock and optimum tactical management to achieve profitability, natural resource management, risk management and lifestyle objectives;
- The right combination of perennials across the farm combined with tactical management creates flexibility and reduces seasonal risks while creating buying and selling opportunities.
By combining the principles with evidence from EverGraze, other research and on-farm experience, regional recommendations can be made in four areas:
- Feedbase; selecting the right plant for the right place for the right purpose and with the right management.
- Soil management; fertility, structure and health.
- Grazing management; grazing to ensure persistence of desirable species and optimum pasture utilisation;
- Livestock systems; selection of good genetics and an appropriate genotype, stocking rate, timing of reproduction and livestock management to efficiently turn pasture into product.
- Tactical management; and tactical responses to meet production targets and maximise profits in good and poor seasons.
Unique farming systems
Every farm is unique in terms of the goals, knowledge and aspirations of the owners, soils, rainfall, landscape, enterprise, existing practices and infrastructure.
For farmers to make sense of the options available they therefore need to understand;
- The cost and potential impact for their business in terms of profit, risk, environmental and lifestyle implications of each option compared to other competing investment options;
- The potential fit of new options into their existing management philosophy;
- Other changes necessary to realise the potential benefit of investment, eg. in a given scenario, lucerne may only benefit the system if lambing time is changed to spring.
Throughout the EverGraze website, an attempt has been made to tell the full story around different options, combined with tools and training to help farmers to undertake this decision process.