The RPGOT decision-making process
31 July 2015
Southern NSW-based agricultural consultant Chris Mirams facilitates producer groups under the banner of programs such as Lifetime Ewe Management and BetterBeef Network.
One of the tools he uses is MLA’s Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool (RPGOT).
“Every region is different but I’m based in Albury, so the critical time for my clients and I to be looking at the tool is June, July and August,” Chris said.
“We get together, call up the local weather station on the tool, look at our soil moisture and the three-month outlook for the area, look at what the SOI and other forecasting tools are telling us and, if there’s a consistent message, I say ‘okay, if this outlook comes to fruition, what are you going to do about it?’
“Then it’s time to make a list of things you can do and put some dates against them.”
Write it down
According to Chris, the critical step is “putting pen to paper and actually creating a plan”.
“If it pours with rain and you have to put the plan in the bin, then so be it, but it’s a good process to go through.”
If the forecasts are pointing to a below-average spring, Chris encourages group members to consider plans they can put in place to mitigate adverse events, making the poor season “a speed hump rather than a brick wall”.
“This might mean identifying stock that are going to be sold to see if we can bring those sales forward a little,” he said.
“If our steers are not going to make a particular target market because we’re going to run out of grass, what is plan B for them? Is there an alternative market?
“Let’s bring preg-testing forward, if possible. We can talk to our agent and say: ‘We’re going to preg-test early and therefore we’ll probably have these cows for sale a bit early. Please make sure we get them in the queue before everyone else starts pouring stock into the market.’
“If you know you’ll need to purchase hay, secure it before everyone else realises the situation.
“Using urea is another option. If the outlook in August is telling us every blade of grass is going to be important this spring, consider putting some urea on in September/October to grow a bit extra. Or we can put urea on and cut a bit of extra hay, knowing we’ll need it, or put urea on to make sure the animals get a little fatter, quicker, so we can sell them earlier.”
And there are just as many decisions to be made if the outlook is pointing to an above-average spring, says Chris.
“Some years the tool will tell us it’s going to be an extraordinary spring, so we need to plan ahead to ensure we capture the benefit of that piece of knowledge,” he said.
“Do we need to buy more stock? Should we put more kilos on the stock we have? Do we make more hay? Do we take on some agistment?
“The key is to use the tool at the most critical time – in this area that’s August – make a plan, then start putting it into action and pulling the management levers as the season develops.
“Forewarned is forearmed.”
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 a three month outlook for over 3,300 weather stations in southern Australia.
Read another feature where Chris shares how MLA’s Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool has helped him kick-start on-farm decisions.
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