Beef 2024 Report

Beef 2024: More trees doesn’t mean better management, AgForce forum hears

Eric Barker, 14/05/2024

Cattle Australia deputy chair Adam Coffey, University of Queensland scientist Bill Ellis and Jess Loughland from Greenham and the Australian Beef Sustainability Steering Group.

AS THE industry looks to make sure it can continue routine land management in the face of international regulation, vegetation management was a hot topic at Beef 2024 in Rockhampton last week.

Several countries and supply chains are currently drafting up plans to disassociate themselves with products that are a result of deforestation – with Qld’s beef industry part of that conversation.

The topic was tackled at a seminar run by AgForce, which included presentations from Cattle Australia deputy chair Adam Coffey, scientist and koala specialist Bill Ellis and Jess Loughland from Greenham and the Australian Beef Sustainability Steering Group.

An interesting discussion ensued in the question and answer part of forum after a statement was made from the crowd by Central Queensland producer and former Cattle Council of Australia and AgForce Cattle board member Ian McCamley.

Mr McCamley asked if communication about land management could go beyond using “trees” as a broad term.

“We have to sell our message and we are selling our message to a lot of people who are not in our industry,” Mr McCamley said.

“Trees are like people, there are good ones and there are really crappy ones. The crappy ones are the shallow rooted trees that have a negative allelopathic effect on everything around them.

“We want the trees in our environment that have a good deep tap root to bring up all the good stuff from down low, that have a symbiotic relationship with soil organisms and allow grass to create a nice cover over the top.”

Speaking to Beef Central after the forum, Mr McCamley said he was concerned about the focus on canopy cover and trees as a generalisation. He said there had been examples in his local area where leaving areas of untreated regrowth had a negative impact on grass cover, however, it had received applause from some who were less educated about the subject.

Mr Coffey said he agreed with Mr McCamley’s sentiment.

His property near Miriam Vale in Central Queensland is hosting what is called a “silvopasture” project under the State Government’s steak and wood program. Silvopasture is the integration of trees and grazing operations for both cattle feed and forestry products.

He also doing some “native thinning”, where poor quality areas of regrowth are thinned with a bulldozer with a priority of leaving the “genetically superior” trees.

“When you think about some of the projects we have underway, there are measurements and metrics there to back them up and if we have a decline in biodiversity then maybe we are not doing it right,” he said.

“Tree/grass balance is nothing new to a lot of you in the room, but I think the more data we can det about this can be used to justify and communicate what we do.”

Mr Coffey and his wife Jacynta purchased their property with a failed timber plantation, which they ultimately had to remove. He said there was a productivity objective in replacing the plantation with the silvopasture project.

“It is about shade for livestock, it is about moisture retention, frost protection, biodiversity and anything else we can put in there,” he said.

Call for engagement in CA’s “land management commitment”

Cattle Australia is currently developing its own definition of deforestation in the Australian context – which it released the underpinning principles for last week.

Mr Coffey encouraged producers to get involved in the process of drafting up the “land management commitment.”

“The land management commitment at CA is a good process to get involved in because it is trying to set the context around deforestation, or whatever you want to call it, from our perspective in the Australian environment,” he said.

“So far the conversation has been led by areas like the European Union, who have a totally different context and are ultimately targeting clearing of South American rainforest.”

Data needed to show biodiversity outcomes

Ms Loughland agreed that it was important for Australia to make sure it is telling the story of its land management before others with less knowledge fill the void. She said most of the discussion about tree numbers was coming “deforestation” regulation.

“From a Greenham perspective, we have been having conversations with our producers and the first thing that always comes up is that ‘having more trees does not mean better management’ and that is correct,” Ms Loughland said.

“What it then comes back to is questions about what data and evidence we have to show the biodiversity outcomes you are achieving on your farm and how we can develop the tools to demonstrate that in a simple and cost-effective manner. That would then allow us to tell the great story of the industry and back it up with data.”

Ms Loughland said efforts to communicate the land management credentials of the industry like CA’s land management commitment were important.

“We are seeing improvements in the amount of data and evidence we have, but overall, it is going to take time to pull it all together,” she said.

“In the meantime, it is important to build relationships with these stakeholders so they don’t just see us as defending ourselves but they see credibility in what we are doing.”

  • The trajectory of deforestation legislation was discussed at a Cattle Australia forum with Integrity Ag & Environment principal Dr Stephen Wiedemann. Beef Central will have a separate storm from that presentation.

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Comments

  1. Bill Burrows, 15/05/2024

    [Note to the Editor: It worries me that there is a widespread assumption that landholders know little about managing our grazed woodlands. I have condensed much of the research knowledge extant to help readers get a wider appreciation. This is in the form of a Google Slides folder link which you may not allow in Beef Central. If this is the case feel free to access the material yourself in future stories BC may run on deforestation/woodland management etc – Bill Burrows M: 0438283488]
    My comment:
    In 2018 I was invited to participate in a workshop on the “tree-grass balance’ run under the Beef Sustainability banner. Pip Band was the MLA’s facilitator of the workshop. I guess my invite was an acknowledgement that I had led DPI’s research into the management of Queensland’s grazed woodlands for most of my 40-year career, when I was employed by that agency.
    For the workshop I prepared a series of PowerPoint and/or pdf slide presentations (of various detail and duration) to draw upon, if needed, during the discussions. I have uploaded some of these topics onto my Google Drive. The topics covered include. Tree and shrub thickening; Tree – grass balance curve detail; Tree thinning: Fire and hydrology impacts; Some biodiversity impacts and the Economic aspects of tree clearing. They are loaded into a Folder – Link: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1bO8SFys_3RtqdNUrjYTyuNKBt4G3Wh1D?usp=drive_link . Click on the individual files to open each.
    Some minor additions/updates may have been made to a few of these 2018 workshop slides, but I believe the information contained within them is as relevant today as it was then.
    The reader/viewer can decide if this is true or not. When I started my studies of woodland ecology my mentor jokingly exclaimed “You know trees can live a long time. If you want to really understand community structure and population dynamics in our grazed woodlands, you will need to be prepared for posthumous fame – if any!” Of course, the latter has never concerned me. But fly-in, fly-out academic and bureaucratic/political experts from our capital cities, certainly have me concerned for the future of our grazed woodlands.

  2. David Dwyer, 15/05/2024

    Very important that we have a united sensible voice, with a very clear solution that highlights the positive impact of agriculture, specifically ruminant production.
    C.A. & Agforce keep the conversation going.

  3. Bill cameron, 14/05/2024

    The beef and farming industry must get this right…or the industry will lose credibility.
    It crosses over into what I eat and why.

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