Peter Whip: Climate champion
Location: Longreach, Qld.
Enterprise: Breeding, progeny sold direct to feedlots at 12–14 months and 320–350kg
Producer: Peter, Raeleen, Toby and Sam Whip
Soil type: Brown loamy clays and self-mulching cracking soils
Pasture type: Mitchell grass, Boree-Mitchell grass downs and Gidgee creek channels
Peter Whip felt the full force of climate variability in January.
After a dry 12 months, 130mm of rain overnight “changed everything” for the Central Queensland beef producer. Peter and his wife Raeleen, who have participated in the Climate Champions program, are developing a highly efficient enterprise at Royston, south of Longreach.
As well as managing seasonal variability, they are proof that reducing emissions from cattle production does not have to come at the cost of profit.
What seasonal challenges do you face?
Our climate is already highly variable – long periods of dry often end in floods.
We’ve been in the Longreach area for 25 years and last year was the worst drought I have seen, even though it was relatively short.
Most rain events are in January and February, but are storm-based so are difficult to forecast.
How does climate variability impact your enterprise, and what are your mitigation strategies?
The extended dry and hot conditions put a lot of pressure on our cattle. Heat-stressed cattle have reduced feed intake, and can use around 2MJ of energy/kilometre in walking.
So, we are improving water distribution at Royston so stock only have to walk short distances to water, which retains energy for production. We’ve invested $150,000 so far in 25km of pipe, tank and troughs to improve half the property.
A fortnight of 46°C days in January knocked stock around, but cattle on the more intensively watered half, managed better.
What did you learn from being a Climate Champion?
One message that really hit home was that average temperatures are already increasing and are forecast to continue in future years.
This will impact cattle energy requirements and productivity. I also realised producers need to stop worrying about what might happen in 50 years and focus on the climate variability we already experience.
What does your ‘climate toolbox’ contain?
Our annual feed budget is our most valuable tool.
I didn’t give it enough weight last year and tried to carry cattle through to a better market based on a hope of ‘early storms’.
We quickly learned that you just can’t gamble with the feed budget.
Does reducing emissions cut your profitability?
We participated in a Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland and federal Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry and Melbourne University project to see if earlier mating and improved fertility impacts emissions intensity and profitability.
It modelled our greenhouse gas emissions and found by joining yearling heifers and increasing fertility, we have reduced emission intensity by 24% compared to a ‘typical’ business which joins breeders at two years of age.
We remained profitable – our farm gross margin was $180,000 more than the typical enterprise.
How are you reducing emissions while increasing productivity?
Our management strategy is to be as efficient as we can: minimal input for maximum productivity.
For 10 years we have joined females at 12–14 months of age to Angus bulls with low birth weight traits, so we don’t have to carry unproductive females for an extra year.
We produce extra calves with the same inputs and same emissions. We intend to reduce joining from three to two months.
With pregnancy tested in-calf rates around 83–92% in yearlings and 85–90% in cows, we are happy that we are getting to a more efficient and fertile herd.
By joining our heifers as yearlings, we have also reduced our average breeder size from around 500kg to an average 450kg. Big, heavy cows don’t handle drought and heat very well, they eat more and produce more emissions, but still only produce one calf a year.
Reducing breeder size means less emissions for the same output.
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