Forecasting a climate plan

Location: Wymah Valley, southern NSW

Enterprise: Beef production

Soil type: South west slopes

Pasture type: Native pastures

GillianTaylorSouthern NSW beef producer and MLA-supported Climate Champion Gillian Taylor uses a range of forecasting tools to manage climate variability at her 1,000ha Wymah Valley property, 'Bibbaringa', in southern NSW.

Her holistic grazing regime is underpinned by seasonal forecasts which drive management decisions about when to buy or sell stock.

“A long-term climate outlook is important because I use seasonal grazing plans, which are determined by seasonal – not seven day – forecasts,” Gillian said.

Climate toolkit

The historic annual average rainfall is 750mm, but this has ranged from 400-1,000mm in the past eight years. So, the grazing plans are supported by a range of climate tools, including short term forecasts (Gillian checks the Elders weather website daily) and longer term outlooks such as:

Rain is the main priority, but Gillian also keeps an eye on temperature which impacts evaporation from dams.

She regularly reviews her plan, to assess ‘pressure points’ based on pasture availability and forecasts. With no ‘buffer’ (fodder is not grown or bought), Gillian sticks to her decisions.

For example, by November last year Gillian had increased her herd to 700 head following a good spring. When seasonal outlooks forecasted a dry December and January, she sold 400 heifers – a decision that paid off as no decent rain fell until late January.

“Forecasting information is only useful if you know what it means,” Gillian said.

“It’s important to familiarise yourself with the tools and seek guidance to accurately interpret the data.”

As one of 20 producers involved in a national Managing Climate Variability (MCV) Climate Champion program, Gillian regularly speaks to the other Champions and climate scientists about how they interpret weather and forecast data. She found field days and workshops as a vital source of up-to-date information to help manage climate risk.

Making money from wire

Bibbaringa is divided into 60 paddocks – from 5ha to 25ha. The herd is rotated through these paddocks as a single mob, for one to five days depending on paddock size.

It may sound labour intensive, but Gillian says it’s just a matter of opening the gate as the herd knows when it is time to move to fresh pasture.

And the infrastructure? Gillian’s response is: “We make money out of wire – the fences allow us to control the productivity of our herd and pastures.”

The cost of production at Bibbaringa is 54c/kg of beef, using the MLA Cost of Production calculator

Gillian rates every paddock based on feed availability in March and October and develops growing season (April-October) and ‘closed season’ (November-March) grazing plans.

Support network

Gillian is also part of a group of eight families who have similar holistic grazing systems, and she draws guidance and support from them. The group is developing a plan to market their own branded beef, lamb and eggs, set to launch later this year.

The holistic grazing system at Bibbaringa is supported by a ‘natural sequencing’ approach, which is designed to utilise effective rainfall and rehydrate the landscape rather than allowing it to runoff into gullies. For example, contours and dams are used to prevent water from flowing off the farm. The Taylors have also planted 60,000 trees.

Information:

Gillian Taylor E: gillian@bibbaringa.com

Did you know? BOM produces short seasonal outlook videos, which Gillian says are a great summary of current information. Check out the climate and water outlook video for April-June 2015 here

Wymah Valley, southern NSW
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