A North Queensland stock agent says the region’s drought is now the worst he has seen in 45 years in business.
Townsville based agent Tim McHugh said the third failed wet season in a row was threatening to decimate the region’s cattle herd, an engine room of the nation’s beef breeding capacity.
He is urging State and Federal Governments to help to keep remaining herds intact by opening Government owned land to cattle grazing.
In particular he says good feed is “going to waste” on a number of Australian Defence Force owned former cattle properties in the region, including the 187,000ha Dotswood Station, acquired by the army in 1988, and the 36,000ha Fanning River, held since 2011.
While conceding it would only help some graziers, Mr McHugh estimated that both properties alone could provide feed for up to 6000 and 4000 cattle respectively.
Far more former cattle grazing land was also now held under State Government owned State Forests, which was also an underutilised resource.
“I have been in this game 45 years and I have seen a lot of droughts,” Mr McHugh said.
“But the fact that this is the third year in a row makes this drought by far and away the worst.”
“I drive through the area a lot and I see this body of grass (on ADF and State owned land) and I think we should be seeing cattle eating this grass.”
Mr McHugh said he had also been surprised to hear that large areas of grass had been burned off in recent weeks under a management program on the State Government owned Blackbraes Station north of Hughenden.
‘To think that here we are in the middle of drought and they are burning grass is unbelievable.’
“To think that here we are in the middle of drought and they are burning grass is unbelievable.”
“There should be consideration and cooperation, they should be looking at the big picture.”
Mr McHugh said the beneficiaries of grazing cattle on ADF and/or state Government owned land would not just include drought-affected graziers but consumers across Australia in general.
“If we lose our herds over a large area the cost of meat is going to go through the roof and the average Australian won’t be able to afford it.”
“We need to have people in government feeling responsible to seeing our herd maintained and not decimated.”
The impact of long-running drought was further evidenced by the fact that live exporters were now accepting cattle as light as 220kg for shipping orders, well below the usual 280-350kg weight range.
Large numbers of cows flowing to northern meatworks had also heavily subdued prices, with cows quoted at 360c/kg in Townsville and Mackay, well below the 415c/kg available in Brisbane.
“I have never seen such a difference in prices between Brisbane and Townsville – it is now 55c, under normal circumstances the difference would be 25c.”
Mr McHugh said that, should the ADF or the State Government allow cattle onto northern properties, any costs required to bring cattle handling and watering infrastructure up to functional standards would have to be shouldered by the producers who are given grazing access opportunities.
“We’re not asking the army or the state forestry to have it up and running as a cattle property, all we want is the grass at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Beef Central put Mr McHugh’s proposal to the Department of Defence and was waiting for a response at the time of sending today’s daily news email.
Time to get real on grazing in National Parks: AgForce
Meanwhile, AgForce Queensland says it’s time to get real on National Park management in Queensland following a report aired on ABC News featuring a call to end grazing in National Parks estate.
In the report, the National Park Association of Queensland (NPAQ) also urged State Government to increase its land area under National Park using the inaccurate and inflammatory claim native plants and animals currently have access to only five per cent of the state’s landmass.
AgForce General President, Grant Maudsley, said agriculture and environmental outcomes can and do coexist and primary producers were committed to protecting Queensland’s flora and fauna.
“The conservation of flora and fauna is prioritised by primary producers across the state and is integral to agricultural management systems,” Mr Maudsley said.
“For example, there are already 400 certified Nature Refuges on private land in Queensland, while our grain producers each year spend an average of $20,000 in labour and $27,000 in management tools including machinery, surveillance and treating new outbreaks to control and prevent weeds.
“Our industry takes great offence at the NPAQ’s portrayal of agriculture as environmental vandalism and is disappointed at the lack of understanding that our land and animal’s health and wellbeing is central to what we do.
“We accept that grazing is not compatible with conservation on some lands, however we also strongly refute the simplistic notion that more land under protection directly correlates to increased environmental safety.”
Mr Maudsley said when the ongoing management of the land had not been adequately resourced or funded there had been numerous instances of National Parks having diminished environmental health.
“There is a history of governments in this state creating more National Parks but not providing funds to keep introduced pest and weeds species under control or to manage fire risks, both of which are distinct threats to environmental health which flow on to neighbouring properties and beyond,” Mr Maudsley said.
“Let me be clear in saying if the government wants more land under conservation they must also provide sufficient resourcing to make sure they are managed on top of the initial purchase price.
“To buy this land, lock it up and throw away the key, as advocated for by a number of conservation groups, is environmentally irresponsible.”
AgForce understands there are approximately 60 leases and permits in place in Queensland allowing grazing in National Parks which usually exist as a result of a legacy arrangements made at the time the land was gazetted. Leases and permits are legal instruments, are traded as real estate and entered into for the purpose of cattle grazing. If these arrangement are not honoured, any proposed changes must be discussed and agreed to by lessees and compensation should be payable if these lease agreements change.
“As seen on the report last night there are families who have successfully managed land in this way for many years and believe the future of each permit or arrangement should be assessed on individual merit,” Mr Maudsley said.
“We believe in many circumstances the ongoing management of land provided by lessees far outweighs the lack of management that would be provided should land revert to an un-grazed and unmanaged conservation liability.”