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Customising the Grazing Land Management Education Workshop to the Barkly Region of the Northern Territory

Project start date: 01 May 2009
Project end date: 31 January 2011
Publication date: 01 October 2011
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: Northern Territory
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Productivity growth in the livestock industry has fluctuated significantly between 1977-78 and 2006-07, although there was an increasing trend overall. While the beef industry showed only moderate productivity gain relative to the wider broadacre industry, productivity in the slaughter lamb has been highly cyclical with any clear long term overall performance difficult to determine. It is clear from the analysis that below average seasonal conditions have adversely impacted productivity estimates and restricted the ability of the livestock industry to exploit productivity gains. Particularly in recent years, poor pasture growth and tightening of on-farm feed availability has forced some farms to turnoff livestock to reduce numbers and limit fodder purchases (ABARE 2008b).
The broadacre livestock industries are likely to require larger productivity gains to sustain profits and export competitiveness in an operating environment characterised by declining terms of trade, increasing international competition, and growing pressures due to climate change. Nevertheless, the beef and slaughter lamb industries appear to be equipped with the means to achieve this.
The slaughter lamb industry continues to benefit from rising world lamb prices. Improved management practices, use of superior genetics (for example, the use of non-merino rams to produce first cross lambs) and greater focus on finishing lambs prior to sale has increased slaughter weight in Australia by around 19 per cent over the past decade (ABARE 2008b). Other productivity drivers over the last decade include a greater reliance on improved pastures and supplementary feeding to enhance ewe fertility rates and reduce lamb mortality rates.
Beef prices have also been strong with high international demand from Japan and South Korea and the expansion of live export markets. However, international competition has also increased, particularly from South American beef and Indian buffalo meat in south-east Asian export markets. Australia’s competitiveness has also been affected by the high Australian dollar. Productivity growth therefore needs to improve above current levels to assist beef producers in maintaining viability.
One factor likely to be affecting the productivity of the beef industry is the large number of small scale producers. More than three-quarters of beef producers have less than 400 head of cattle and often do not operate with the scale necessary to benefit from the latest herd or farm business management practices (ABARE 2006). The exception here was very small producers which exhibited relatively strong productivity performance over the period, most likely due to the dominance of other activities such as cropping in their production mix. Compared to small scale producers, large beef producers have achieved more sizable productivity gains. These producers gradually expanded land holdings during the 1990s, leaving them better placed to increase productivity and incomes. During the 2000s, these producers have also increased capital investment, particularly in the northern beef region.
Productivity growth in the beef industry is likely to continue to be driven by larger farms with bigger land holdings and greater access to capital. These farmers are generally better equipped to increase farm performance and take advantage of recent industry development such as advanced breed genetics, greater ease in moving livestock and fodder, and better herd management, mustering techniques and disease response mechanisms.

More information

Project manager: Mick Quirk
Primary researcher: Northern Territory of Australia