THE launch last November of the satellite-based Australian Feedbase Monitor is providing valuable new tools for beef producers to use in decision-making around drought management this spring.
A joint project between Cibo Labs and Meat & Livestock Australia, the Feedbase Monitor offers producers a tool to accurately assess pasture biomass at a property and paddock level. An entry level (lower resolution) service is free for MLA members, but a higher resolution, paddock-scale version is available on a subscription basis.
The Feedbase Monitor platform was not yet launched when Eastern Australia last experienced severe drought in 2019, making this year’s event the first where the technology is being used for this purpose.
Based on satellite-fed data, the AFM objectively measures pasture growth, biomass and ground cover using a 30-day rolling average. This enables producers to make informed decisions about the state of their pasture.
The tool is free for MLA members who have linked their Livestock Production Assurance accounts to their myMLA dashboard, or can be accessed by non-members via Cibo Labs’ paid subscription service.
Webinar focus on drought decision-making
The use of the Feedbase Monitor will be one topic covered in a drought management webinar being hosted by consultant, Alastair Rayner’s Rayner Ag.
RaynerAg’s drought management webinar will be held tonight (Tuesday 19 September) at 7.30pm (EST), focussing on drought preparation and incorporating tools like the AFM into producers’ decision maki9ng processes.
People who cannot attend the live session can still register, to access a recorded version later. The session will cover the points of preparation and resource inventory; setting priorities for livestock and management of classes; feeding choices to match livestock with pasture needs.
It will start with a summary of BOM’s summary of rainfall performance, combined with what CIBO is seeing on the ground through the AFM.
“The first step for producers preparing for, or managing drought is to draw up some objectives, define available resources, and establish some critical benchmarks in terms of feeding and the animals on hand,” Mr Rayner said.
The program will step through the various options available – sell, feed, agist among them – but will not push producers towards any specific option. Rather, the exercise is about thinking about what each producer has to play with in terms of resources and options, and what they might need to change.
Hunter region case study
In preparation for tonight’s webinar, Mr Rayner has done a ‘run’ on current AFM data on the NSW Upper Hunter region, for illustrative purposes.
“The first thing to note is that there is still incredible variation in pasture biomass across the Hunter region,” he said.
“The second is that within particular locations, and even within a single property’s boundaries, there is huge variation – as much as 800kg dry matter per hectare within one farm.”
“The idea is that once we can overlay how much pasture is present, we can start to ask questions like what are the critical benchmarks for a lactating cow or a dry cow, and what are the right supplements to be using in those circumstances.”
“We can lay that over the top of the AFM results as a really simple benchmark. In some cases, we know that dry-season supplements are ineffective, when pasture biomass is below 1500kg/ha. Here, we should be feeding for energy,” Mr Rayner said.
In the Hunter region, lactating cows and calves not being fed at present would typically be losing around 1.5kg/day, or 0.6 of a body condition score per month, while calves are gaining around 220g/day, Mr Rayner said.
Some producers subscribed to the AFM are already using the service as a drought management decision-making tool, and part of the purpose of tonight’s webinar is to familiarise more producers with that opportunity.
“We’ll also go back to the previous drought cycle and look at the key things that were important then,” Mr Rayner said. “Things like setting a date and sticking to it, and accepting that there is never going to be a perfect time.
“But if a producer is going to set a trigger-point, what are they going to base that on?”
“As an example (again using the Hunter region), if your feeding has been based on white cottonseed, the window is now closed, because the animal physically cannot eat enough to get the energy they require. People need to be proactive in their feeding decisions,” he said.
Editor’s note: Alastair Rayner also provides a contract extension service for CIBO Labs.
- Use this link to register for tonight’s Rayner Ag webinar, or receive a link to the recording after the session.