Opinion: In defence of high value agriculture at Olive Vale in Qld’s Cape

Paul Ryan, Olive Vale Station, , 04/05/2018

The following opinion piece has been submitted by Paul Ryan, owner of Olive Vale Station in Cape York, in response to an opinion authored by former Cattle Council of Australia president Greg Brown titled “Tree laws: farmers, environmentalists should work together and leave the politicians out of it”, published on Beef Central on April 18. 


I am the owner of Olive Vale.

To quote Greg Brown:

“The High Value Agriculture (HVA) concept is totally flawed as it allowed people to clear large tracts of country without any staging process”…. “Another flaw with the HVA process was the exaggerated land suitability, productivity and economic claims made by some people charged with the task of putting the HVA applications together. An independent review prepared by Mr W.P. Thompson for the Government identified major flaws and cast serious doubt on the information provided in one particular northern tree clearing application. A permit to clear substantial areas of unsuitable soils was granted based on this flawed application”.

The Thompson report was in relation to Olive Vale.

The Thompson report directly attacked State Government assessment procedures regarding High Value Agriculture, and threatens the future assessment of such proposals.

It was hastily prepared as a desktop assessment.

Now it took my consultant at least five (5) months to do the survey and write the report… soil tests etc.

Further, his reports met with the guidelines to land suitability and financial viability, as published, at the time of lodgement.

The Queensland Department of State Development and Department of Natural Resources deemed it was a properly made application under the 22A test and always had the option of at least 2 Information Requests under the Sustainable Planning Act.

As alleged by Ms Jackie Trad, this was not a “dirty deal” done in the dying days of the Newman Government.

We had two (2) extensions to timeframes under the Sustainable Planning Act, and the fact that a decision was not made before Christmas, and public servants were away and Campbell Newman decided to call an early election is nothing to do with Olive Vale.

Well Mr Brown, we are staging development. To date, only 1,800ha has been cleared and the whole area is growing crops.

Mr Thompson conducted no field inspection of the subject land has been undertaken as part of this review.

No attempt was made by Mr Thompson to contact my consultant to better understand and query methodology.

Assumptions have been made by Mr Thompson. Possibly this maybe because it was not in his brief from his funder, the ALP Government?

How can Mr Thompson’s review be done in a matter of weeks, with not even visiting the site, and assuming that this “independent” consultant had no other work on?

I have no doubt the ALP Government wanted a report to discredit Olive Vale.

The initial story broke on 4 May 2015 and the State Government ordered the investigation on 6 May.

Mr Thompson had completed his “review” by 31 May 2015 so it hit the next sitting of parliament.

Sorghum on Olive Vale

To date, DNRM staff have been satisfied with the clearing and it is all compliant.

Mr Thompson is not consistent with at least three (3) other studies in the north and makes some gross assumptions.

He then goes on to base his financial analysis on these assumptions.

Unlike the Darling Downs, grain can be grown successfully on lighter soils here in the Cape, given moisture during the wet season is not limiting.

Water balance modelling on similar soils in the Cape showed a potential yield of 6.4T/Ha of sorghum. You actually cannot get on the ground to work heavy black cracking clays during the wet in the Cape – and the red sandy loam soils offer trafficability.

Visitors to Olive Vale have been satisfied with the soils that were assessed including Agforce regional members, DNRM staff, other State Government and Commonwealth Officers and DAF Senior Industry Officers, who have been involved in the Gilbert and Flinders River precincts.

Mungbeans on Olive Vale.

In the financials we used a conservative 2.5T/Ha yield.

A DAF-funded trial cropping report for Olive Vale last year showed an average yield across all sorghum varieties of 4.88 T/Ha. That would have amounted to above what was predicted—$714 per hectare at $300 a tonne for sorghum. Rice and Mungbeans are yielding well and show great promise as cropping options.

Sesame on Olive Vale

Mr Thompson attacks Rice as it has no commercial history of production in Queensland – well, rice is one of the cropping options in the trials showing most promise with crops being healthy, vigorous and yielding well.

So who is Greg Brown? At the time Greg Brown was Chair of CCA, he welcomed WWF to the “Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef” as some sort of “equity partner” and friends.

From my understanding Greg Brown is no Agronomist or soil pedologist. The consultant I engaged is. It is well known that Greg Brown has been openly critical of him for years.

In 2017 Greg Brown attended a Field day at Olive Vale and has seen first-hand the success of cropping trials at Olive Vale.

He was the only person who has been critical of the cropping, despite being financially viable. Greg Brown does not represent the wider industry viewpoint on High value agriculture which offers social and economic opportunity, in areas with a low economic base, to both Indigenous and non-indigenous communities.


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  1. Douglas Tobin, 25/11/2019

    Will these cleared lands always have crops on them or will they be allowed to fallow?

    Will chemicals be controlled 100% or be allowed to run off into river systems?

    Cutting down trees to make money. Eventually the tide will turn against those opportunists who refuse to farm cleared areas because they are too expensive to buy.

    Douglas Tobin
    Divemaster Cairns

  2. Andrew Paynter, 07/05/2018

    Olive Vale is a credit to all concerned,in all of Qld you will not witness what was unproductive country in a high rainfall area go to the production levels that have been achieved on Cape York,Huge potential here,no doubt

  3. Joanne Rea, 05/05/2018

    Congratulations Paul Ryan for getting your side of the story out there. That your development was challenged was yet another false beat-up by The Wilderness Society to garner publicity and political kudos. They are proven to be wrong again and again and then they just disappear into the woodwork until they find another target.
    Not only is it a shame that organisations like TWS can peddle their lies, carry a Deductible Gift Recipient Status so that donations are tax deductibleand influence city voters, but it is a travesty when former agricultural leaders take on their position against fellow landowners.
    The reason that a dialogue cannot happen between landowners and green organisations is that they cannot be trusted. None of the usual niceties of a deal being a deal apply to green organisations.
    To talk with them is literally a waste of time.

    • Douglas Tobin, 25/11/2019

      I’m not a Greenie, but I know your days of clearing trees are numbered. Farm cleared land or get out of business while you have the money to start something else.

      Douglas Tobin

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