A pasture tool that triggers decisions

24 July 2015

Agricultural consultant Chris Mirams has introduced almost 100 producers to MLA’s Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool (RPGOT) since he first used it about six years ago.

Working with producer groups and clients in north-eastern Victoria and NSW’s southern Riverina, Chris uses the tool to support on-farm decision making in June, July and August.

“Spring pasture growth is determined by subsoil moisture, which is a function of winter rainfall and the ensuing rain in spring,” Chris said.

“The tool gives a good indication of your subsoil moisture and then gives trend lines going forward for the next three months, based on the historical weather data from your weather station.

“The tool acts as a trigger to make you think. For example, if you see the outlook is spiralling downwards you think ‘what will I do if that comes to fruition?’

Then you can start documenting a plan.”

Learning from experience

Chris is a former EverGraze National Advisory Committee chair, NSW Farmer of the Year finalist and is a current MLA Board Director.

When first told of the RPGOT, he was managing Woomargama Station near Holbrook.

“I remember I was feeling pretty comfortable with the season that year,” he recalled.

“It was August and we had had a dry winter, which is not a bad thing in that area as there are waterlogging issues.

“However a fellow told me to try the tool, and when I dialled up our local weather station it suggested we had a very high probability of a very short spring.

“I looked at the SOI (Southern Oscillation Index) and a few other bits and pieces, and together they gave me the courage to start making some decisions early.

“We brought livestock in, preg-tested and weaned early, sold off some cast-for-age sheep each week, and then started selling wethers four to six weeks earlier than we would have otherwise.

“Using that tool gave me the head’s up that things in the future might not be as rosy as I was seeing in the paddock at the time. It was spot-on that year and I’ve used it ever since.”

As for the accuracy of the tool every year, Chris advises remembering it is a predictive tool, so it can’t be 100 per cent accurate.

“What it can do is help you make good decisions,” he said.

“Whether they turn out to be right or wrong is, to some degree, in the lap of the gods.

“If the alternative is just flying by the seat of your pants, I definitely prefer having this in my toolbox to start the decision-making process.”

What is the RPGOT in a nutshell?

MLA’s Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool estimates pasture growth in relation to rainfall, soil moisture and other climatic conditions.

Using current and historical weather information recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology, it provides an outlook for up to three months into the future, for over 3,300 weather stations in southern Australia.

In next week’s Friday Feedback Chris will detail the RPGOT on-farm decision-making process he shares with producer groups and private clients.

Information

Chris Mirams E: cjmirams@bigpond.com

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