The growing need for drought management tools and strategies to assist graziers to cope with dry times was evident in the huge turnout of 250 plus graziers who attended the ‘’Creating Drought Resilient Farm Businesses” event, held in Ebor NSW on February 4th. The event hosted by MaiaGrazing featured local graziers and industry experts such as Bart Davidson, David McLean, Stuart Austin and Maddy Coleman. A running theme among the speakers stressed the need for better, timely decisions backed by data to deal with the inevitable occurrence of drought. Another draw card for the event was Kit Pharo from Pharo Cattle Company (USA) who shared his herd quitter philosophy of thinking outside the box and challenging long held industry norms. Each speaker shared their own pivotal moment where they were faced with huge challenges and impending loss. These moments forced them to change and eventually turn their businesses around through graze planning, sustainable pasture management, data driven decision making, working with nature and unconventional thinking.
The event was not only popular with graziers but was also attended by numerous media outlets including ABC Radio who featured live and recordings statewide via ‘The Country Hour’.
Peter Richardson, CEO of MaiaGrazing discusses why the top 20% of Graziers are 3 times more profitable than the rest
Peter and the Maia Technology team are passionate about helping livestock farmers make better decisions. The key to drought resilience is making better decisions at the right time using real data. Peter described the journey to improved grazing management as a series of three steps which are:
1. Getting rid of paper records and capturing your data in digital form, easing communications within your team
2. Planning and budgeting pasture allocation to match supply and demand
3. Dynamically managing stocking rates to match changing conditions
With these three steps in place, livestock farmers have the tools they need to plan effectively, forecast different scenarios to make informed decisions, and approach the performance of the top graziers.
“Droughts are inevitable …being ready is a choice” – Bart Davidson from MaiaGrazing shares his philosophy on drought management
The inevitability of drought was addressed early on in Bart’s talk. He shows how over many years we have consistently had cycles of dryer and wetter periods due to El Nino and La Nina cycles. If not managed carefully, the outcomes of drought are quite predictable, going through four stages. Initially, everything is ok but then it starts to dry off with a late or short growing season. We then start hoping it will rain and eat into future grass reserves. Eventually, we become stuck feeding animals in a falling market. In the final stage, things are not ok and we are forced to make the tough decisions.
Bart believes that drought is not the problem. He comments that the real problem is that “We lack the confidence and impetus …to make the decisions we should …when the outcomes would benefit us the most”. Bart illustrates this point in a case study where the failure to make the right decision and destock when entering dryer times creates a situation where paddocks are overgrazed and unable to recover when the rain arrives. On the flip side, Bart also shares the experiences of a real farm (Woodburn in New England) where the effects of drought were minimised by using MaiaGrazing decision support tools to effectively manage stocking rate to the ideal carrying capacity in response to changing environmental factors.
Bart highlights the importance of tools such as MaiaGrazing in assisting the decision-making process. The act of capturing data in digital form enables MaiaGrazing to utilise sophisticated analytics to determine what is, what should be and what will be. At the decision stage, we are supported by forecasting of different scenarios to assist with graze planning.
“The crazy ones…and our desire to help others” – Stuart Austin, Wilmot Cattle Co
Stuart manages a successful livestock operation at Wilmot and believes in a profitable regenerative agriculture model. In his speech, Stuart urged graziers to think differently about farm business management. By taking the approach of accepting the two things beyond our control – weather and markets – we can focus on those which we can control – grass, money and livestock.
Stuart shared some great quotes from one of his mentors, Bud Williams – “Nobody ever went broke from having too much grass or too much money. But a lot of people have gone out of business from having too many cattle. Folks should love their grass and hate their cows.”
MaiaGrazing was also featured in one of Stuart’s case studies where he illustrated how they were able to use the decision support tool to manage their way back to their ideal stocking rate.
As part of the event, Stuart treated the attendees to a paddock-walk, and shared the inner workings of Wilmot and how they manage their cattle and pastures to create a sustainable system.
David McLean from RCS explores decisions and the ones you can’t afford NOT to make
David’s presentation explored the psychology of decision making and how confidence is a must when committing to a path of action. David outlined that decisions need to be made on meaningful information and a clear direction. The main pillars of a grazing business include the team, the land, production and the business. Critical information derived from each pillar includes such elements as stocking rate to carrying capacity, running enterprises with maximum gross margin per dollars per DSE and optimal overheads. RCS benchmarking data was also explored in depth throughout the presentation and highlighted some interesting trends.
Some of the key takeaways from David’s speech was that stocking rate to carrying capacity is a critical feedback figure, average rainfall is never average and therefore not a meaningful measure in the decision process. He also stated that we are always in some stage of drought, either leading up to drought, managing through drought or in recovery. He explains it as a natural cycle that we need to plan for and develop strategies to deal with.
When faced with severe drought, impending financial loss and tough decisions Maddy Colman shares her journey to regenerative data driven agriculture
During her speech Maddy recounts her initiation into the world of grazing, leading into one of Australia’s most severe droughts and how she came to the realisation that making tough decisions based on sound data and planning is the only sustainable way forward.
At an early age Maddy developed an interest in agriculture and after leaving school studied agriculture at Hunter Valley College and a number of other regenerative agriculture educational institutions. Maddy was not a generational farmer and grew up in Sydney. She saw this as an advantage as she was open to new concepts and non-traditional methods of grazing.
Maddy purchased her first farm 2 years ago at the age of 25, but unfortunately witnessed the onset of a severe 2-year drought. Her initial enthusiasm and lack of planning brought with it excessive purchases of cattle resulting in her paddocks being over stocked. As the drought persisted it was clear her paddocks could not support her current stocking rate.
Maddy searched for answers attending various regenerative agriculture training courses and gaining advice from mentors such as Stuart Austin. She also discovered the MaiaGrazing software tool which enabled her to capture data, implement planned grazing, understand her ideal stocking rate and forecast different scenarios. After analyzing her data in MaiaGrazing it was clear that she should have destocked 3 months earlier than she had. It was a difficult decision as Maddy was forced to sell stock at a lower price than originally purchased. The cost of not taking action would have been far greater though, being forced to sell stock at an even lower sale price, incurring larger feed costs and overgrazing her land to the point where recovery time could have taken years.
Today Maddy is in the perfect position to take advantage of the rains when they arrive. Maddy’s story is inspirational and she continues to aim high with her new goal set at making a profit during the drought.
The Importance of Quitting the Herd & Thinking Differently with Kit Pharo
Kit Pharo is a prolific speaker with his ‘Herd Quitter’ seminars. He coined the term to refer to people who have enough courage to break away from the status-quo, herd-mentality way of thinking. Kit also runs the Pharo Cattle Company in Eastern Colorado, an internationally renowned stud business, with his wife Deanna. Early in their cattle business, they discovered that increasing production wasn’t nearly as important as increasing profits, and there was a very poor correlation between production and profit.
Kit’s opening remarks set the tone for his unique speech. His key belief is that ranching should be profitable, enjoyable and sustainable. Without the first 2 elements ranching is not sustainable. Kit stressed the importance of measuring performance but ensuring we are measuring the right thing which is sustainable profit per acre.
Today it costs twice as much to produce a calf then it did just 15 years ago. To make matters worse the calf prices in his market have halved in just 2 years. Over the past 50 years input costs have risen 4 times faster than cattle prices. Kit highlighted that the main factor contributing to reduced profitability over the past 50 years has been the obsession with breeding and selecting for increased weaning weights.
The results over the past 50 years of these larger weaning weights have been increased cattle size, decreased stocking rates, increased supplementary feeding, increased cost of production and decreased profits. If the focus was on pounds and profits per acre instead of increased weaning weights the outcome would have been very different.
Kit identified that one of the biggest obstacles for farmers trying to achieve a profit is the rapidly increasing costs of production and most expect this trend to continue. The need to move away from the status quo herd of high-input agriculture is essential and those slow to change will not survive.
Kit was adamant that in order to survive over the next 50 years farmers will need to adopt a new approach. This requires producers to think in terms of production and profit per acre instead of per animal, work with nature instead of against it, implement planned rotational grazing, produce cattle that fit their environment and reduce or eliminate input costs.
Kit’s observations and advice was popular with most of the audience but caused unease among others as their traditional beliefs had been challenged.