Benchmarking Rural Industries' Practices and Productivity Performance and Review of Industries' Capacity to Change
This project describes the main regional environmental challenges facing the Australian beef industry and outlines the industry's response to these challenges in terms of changing land management practice. This project provides analysis on a national and industry regional scale and is not intended to have property level uses.
Regional adoption rates of practices are documented and future directions for the industry are proposed. Some of the major environmental challenges for the beef industry such as salinity and the beef industry's position within the inland and northern areas of Australia have placed increased pressure on production systems. The cumulative effects of intensifying land use within these landscapes is demonstrating itself by increased weed infestation, declining water qualities, habitat loss and increased populations of pests and feral animals.
KEY FACTS ABOUT THE BEEF INDUSTRY
- Major user of land resources and major income earner
- Located predominantly in inland and semi-arid areas of Australia
- Challenged by several national environmental issues
- Sound organisational support
- Substantial research and development initiatives
- Industry responses in terms of land allocation and changes to farming systems are needed in some areas to address degradation issues
In 1998, the Australian beef cattle industry occupied an area in excess of 200 million hectares. These production areas are generally located in the inland and northern areas of Australia, and represent one of Australia's major land users.
Beef production occurs across much of Australia, but is split geographically and physically into six zones. These zones are:
- Northern Region
(high rainfall, temperate and pastoral zones and feedlots)
- Southern Region
(high rainfall, temperate and pastoral zones and feedlots).
These regions, zones and the distributions of cattle (including feedlots) are represented in the maps below.
The proportion of Australia's beef area within each of these regions is shown in the table and chart below. Further detail of each of the beef regions is presented in the regional information pages
|Region||Area(ha)||% of Australian beef area|
|High Rainfall zone||6,634,626||3%|
|High Rainfall zone||7,832,294||4%|
In December 1999, Australia's feedlots had the capacity to hold more than 873,000 cattle. Of this capacity, 505,455 head of cattle were contained within feedlot facilities.
The State-by-State breakdown of the capacity of Australia's beef herd and feedlot facilities are provided in the chart below. This chart shows Queensland as having both the highest herd size (10.1 million head) and highest feedlot capacity.
In June 1999, 49% of Australia's lot fed beef were held on 14 very large lots each holding more than 10,000 head. At the same time, 14% of the lot fed beef were fed on 700 lots holding less than 1,000 head each.
The beef industry is large and diverse, and beef is produced under widely varying climatic and environmental conditions. Beef is produced on properties that vary in size, management regimes and enterprise mixes. Cattle numbers have reduced from a peak of 23.8 million in 1996/97 to just over 20 million in 1999.
Beef is predominantly produced in inland and northern regions of Australia, in areas from the Gulf country in the Northern Territory and Queensland through inland New South Wales and into northern Victoria.
In 1999, the key production statistics for the Australian beef industry were:
- 220 million ha total beef area
- 1,174,000 ha of irrigated pasture (ie. 0.5 %)
In 1999, Australia's beef herd totalled in excess of 20 million. A breakdown of the herd in terms of breed is presented below.
|Breed||Number ('000)||Proportion (%)|
|Other British breed||173||0.9|
|Other Tropical breed||729||3.6|
|British breed cross||2,165||10.7|
|British x European||978||4.9|
|Bos indicus x Bos taurus||2,964||14.7|
In 1999, a total of 9,321,000 cattle were slaughtered, producing 1,955,000 tonnes of meat to a total value of $3 763 million. 92.6 % of these cattle were retained for the domestic meat market and the remainder were exported as shown in the pie charts below.
The main market destination for exported feedlot cattle was Japan (September 1999), which received almost 349,000 beasts or 63% of total. The proportions of feedlot cattle with domestic and other export markets are described in the chart below.
The Australian beef industry employs a total of 34,320 people over 31,780 properties and nearly 800 accredited feedlots. Key characteristics of Australian beef producers and farms are presented in the following tables. These statistics are further analysed in the regional pages
|Age of owner/manager||58 years||53 years||52 years||51 years|
|Owner/manager education and skill:
- Completed university/tertiary or trade
|- Completed 5-6 years high school||22%||15%||47%||54%|
|- Completed 1-4 years high school||34%||42%||22%||28%|
|- Primary or no schooling||15%||20%||8%||10%|
|Family members working on farm||71 hr/wk||104 hr/wk||135 hr/wk||95 hr/wk|
|Owner manager work on farm||45 hr/wk||54 hr/wk||55 hr/wk||53 hr/wk|
|Number of dependent children||0.6||1.0||1.1||1.0|
|Farm cash income ($)||43,954||57,198||201,751||132,784|
|Total farm debt - June 30 ($)||120,487||250,237||591,160||326,932|
|Farm business profit ($)||- 9,033||7,662||120,394||32,975|
|Total off farm income ($)||29,858||38,527||19,931||10,441|
|Owner work off farm||6 hr/wk||1 hr/wk||2 hr/wk||2 hr/wk|
|Area operated - June 30||11,688 ha||9,076 ha||11,255 ha||114,626 ha|
|Farm ownership/ tenure:
|- Long term crown lease||85%||41%||35%||92%|
|Employment of non-family labour||9 hr/wk||20 hr/wk||73 hr/wk||42 hr/wk|
|Length of group involvement||6 years||6 years||5 years||8 years|
|Age of owner/manager||58 years||59 years||59 years||46 years|
|Owner/manager education and skill:
- Completed university/tertiary or trade
|- Completed 5-6 years high school||22%||18%||20%||33%|
|- Completed 1-4 years high school||34%||26%||53%||18%|
|- Primary or no schooling||15%||19%||9%||0%|
|Family members working on farm||71 hr/wk||64 hr/wk||45 hr/wk||120 hr/wk|
|Owner manager work on farm||45 hr/wk||43 hr/wk||69 hr/wk||57 hr/wk|
|Number of dependent children||0.6||0.5||0.4||2.0|
|Farm cash income ($)||43,954||25,711||37,559||170,124|
|Total farm debt - June 30 ($)||120,487||83,898||80,977||310,545|
|Farm business profit ($)||- 9,033||- 24,929||- 10,595||233,757|
|Total off farm income ($)||29,858||34,221||23,368||26,698|
|Owner work off farm||6 hr/wk||7 hr/wk||7 hr/wk||3 hr/wk|
|Area operated - June 30||11 688 ha||720 ha||1 815 ha||225 558 ha|
|Farm ownership/ tenure:
|- Long term crown lease||85%||3%||47%||98%|
|Employment of non-family labour||19 hr/wk||15 hr/wk||17 hr/wk||32 hr/wk|
|Length of group involvement||6 years||6 years||5 years||8 years|
A wide variation of characteristics exists across the beef industry. Northern zone producers, on average, generate higher farm business profits than southern zone producers. Producers in the temperate zone of the northern region generate higher business profits than the other high rainfall and pastoral zones. Unusually, pastoral zone producers in the southern region generate the highest business profit. Further analysis of this finding would need to be completed before drawing conclusions. Producers from the zones with the higher farm profits are expected to be more likely to invest in changes in management practice.
Other factors that are clearly different between zones are:
- tenure arrangements
- size of the properties
- landcare group involvement
'Pastoral zone' holdings are generally of leasehold tenure, very large holdings and have a high level of landcare group involvement. Northern region/temperate zone producers generally have properties that are freehold tenure, operating relatively smaller areas and supported by lower levels of landcare group membership. It is expected that implementation of management practices would be more likely on freehold properties (depending on lease conditions) where producer landcare group membership is high.Other indices such as age, education level and farm employment rates are variable both within and between zones. It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from these indices due to their variability.
A review of available literature on the Australian beef industry has highlighted a number of recurring issues in environmental management. For grazing stock, the following issues were highlighted:
- land management of particularly improved pasture systems on issues such as the quality, quantity and stability of plant species within the grazing system;
- Land degradation from soil and water erosion due to overgrazing and clearing of native vegetation;
- the need for effective management of woody vegetation to prevent loss of biodiversity and dryland salinity;
- nutrient management also due to soil loss;
- Weed and pest control.
The Australian Feedlot industry has also identified a number of environmental management issues arising from feedlot operations:
- effective utilisation of effluent and manure;
- protection of the land from degradation;
- protection of groundwater resources;
- protection of surface water resources;
- protection of community amenity.
The proportion of regional beef farms reporting significant degradation (ABARE, 2000) is shown in the two graphs below. The relative standard errors reported in the tables attached to these graphs give an indication of the relative sampling error. The survey is conducted of a proportion of the farms in Australia. A high sampling error figure indicates that only a small proportion of the total farms has been surveyed.
The average Australian beef property area affected by various forms of degradation is shown in the graph below.
The most significant form of degradation reported on Australian beef farms (ABARE, 2000) is the presence of weeds. The distribution of woody weeds and weeds of national significance throughout Australia is shown in the maps below. The Decade of Landcare mapping was based on broad scale investigation, and represents an overview only.
There has been considerable growth in organised land management groups in recent years. These various groups address the sustainability of agricultural land use by examining issues such as land degradation, water quality, salinity, soil fertility and feral animal control on a local basis.
The PrograzeŽ program, jointly developed by NSW Agriculture, the Meat Research Corporation, now the Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) in 1994. PROGRAZE uses a series of organised courses run by state department officers and other accredited deliverers such as agricultural consultants. The courses concentrate on setting and achieving livestock and pasture production targets using skills in assessing livestock and the quality, quantity and stability of plant species within the grazing system.
A survey undertaken by ABARE in 1996-97 (The Australian Beef Industry, 1998) found that beef producers who are members of a land management group such as Landcare:
- are more likely to have a farm plan
- participate more frequently in training activities than non-members
- use a wider range of farm management information sources
- adopt a larger proportion of best farm management practices.
These statistics are summarised in the table below.
|% of broadacre farms with beef cattle|
|PROGRAZE - aware of||45||33||N/A||31||16||48||N/A||39|
|PROGRAZE - undertaken||11||5||N/A||12||0||15||N/A||9|
|Farm plan (professional)||6||12||10||13||9||19||18||9|
|Member of land management group (ie Landcare)||69||46||31||19||39||28||50||37|
Management practices being adopted by beef farmers to address the main issues of weeds, water erosion and surface waterlogging, include:
- formal vegetation and pasture condition monitoring;
- exclusion of stock from degraded areas;
- weed eradication;
- the use of perennial pastures;
- planting crop/pasture legumes;
- maintenance of cover along drainage lines;
- tree/shrub establishment;
- monitoring of water tables.
The national adoption of these and other practices varies as shown in the chart below.
In March 1999, Meat and Livestock Australia held a workshop with representatives from all sectors in the beef cattle industry to develop a strategic plan for the beef industry to the year 2002. A number of Strategic Imperatives facing the beef industry were identified along with relevant strategies to address each imperative and a number of relevant goals.
The draft Strategic Imperatives included:
- building demand for beef products
- guaranteeing product integrity
- providing the infrastructure to support a competitive industry
- developing an internationally competitive supply of beef products.
The key environment related objectives of the strategic plan specifically relate to the need for improved grazing techniques and other on-farm land management strategies. Goals for these strategies include:
- Achieving significant improvement in productivity and natural resource sustainability indicators through improved grazing and other management strategies.
- To reduce and reverse the impact of land and water degradation on beef producers.
- Meeting the expectations of the community for the land and water management practices adopted by the industry.
Regional pastoral bodies are required to consider these strategies when developing regional grazing practices. Examples of this are represented on the charts below. These charts provide survey response information on perceived factors requiring attention in the southern temperate and high rainfall zones (left) and types of grazing management used (right). This example shows the issues requiring attention to ensure good quality pastures are maintained and the management.
Beef industry codes of practice.
The beef grazing industry does not currently have a specific code of practice, however, some guidance is provided to farmers through codes of practice for general agriculture such as that developed by the Queensland Farmer's Federation or through the PrograzeŽ program.
PrograzeŽ uses a series of organised courses run by state department officers and other accredited deliverers such as agricultural consultants. The courses concentrate on setting and achieving livestock and pasture production targets using skills in assessing livestock and the quality, quantity and stability of plant species within the grazing system.
The National Beef Cattle Feedlot Environmental Code of Practice
The Australian Lot Feeders Association initiated the development of the National Beef Cattle Feedlot Environmental Code of Practice (the Code), in early 1998 to address the environmental legislative requirements of all States and Territories with regard to feedlot practices. Through the development of this code, benchmarks have been established to provide guidance for the stakeholders of beef cattle feedlots.
The code specifies environmental performance objectives, operational objectives and practices that provide ways of achieving compliance with the environmental duty of care. The purpose of the code is to enhance self-regulation by the industry by relation to practices that do or may impact upon the environment. Environmental best management practices are given covering management of drainage, pens, manure and effluent, spoilt feed, dead stock, odours, dust, noise, visual impact, fly and vermin, weeds and seeds, and chemicals.
The industry is supported by a network of structures and organisations. These structures support the industry in areas such as marketing, infrastructure and research and development. Supportive bodies include peak bodies, government agencies, beef marketing organisations and R & D institutions. A summary of this structure is presented below.
|PEAK BODIES||RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT|
|Cattle Council of Australia
Australian Lot Feeders Association
|Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd
Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
Land and Water Australia
|Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia
Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service
Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Beef industry research and development
Cooperative Research Centre
The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for the Cattle and Beef Industry (meat quality) is a joint venture between the University of New England, CSIRO, NSW Agriculture and the Qld Department of Primary Industries. The CRC officially commenced operations in 1993 and has funding of $60 million over seven years. The Commonwealth Government and industry sponsors provide funding for the CRC operations.
The principle objectives of the CRC are:
- To develop genetic breeding technologies.
- To design novel feeding and management strategies to meet meat quality objectives in Australia's difficult environments.
- To address and resolve major constraints to intensive beef production by eliminating health and welfare concerns and reducing environmental pollution.
- To develop an understanding of economic relationships, evaluation of new technologies, and to assess broad community issues such as land and water use and long-term industry sustainability.
The CRC receives sponsorship from over 40 commercial firms from the beef production, processing and service centres. These firms provide cash or in-kind resources to facilitate research and education activities.
Meat and Livestock Australia
The major research and development funding agency in the meat industry is Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd. MLA provides approximately $45million per annum to research organisations for R&D. Appproximately 20% of these funds are devoted to projects concerned with environmentally sustainable production. Major programs include the Sustainable Grazing Systems (SGS) Key Program and the North Australia Program. Prograzier magazine, NAP News and Tips n Tools are published regularly to ensure the results of these programs are distributed to more than 15,000 producers.
MLA also conducts a a producer initiated research and development scheme (PIRD) to meet the industry's request for greater producer involvement in research and development. Under the scheme, producers with an initiative aimed at improving the efficiency and profitability of their farm business through on farm research and development can apply to the MLA for funds of up to $10,000 per project.
More than 300 producer groups across Australia have now received PIRD funding, enabling research and development to be aimed at addressing local and regional issues.
In a 1994 survey conducted during the MLA Temperate Pasture Sustainability Key Program, producers identified problems in pasture management in need of research. These key areas are presented in the following chart.
Meat and Livestock Australia is currently in the process of surveying the industry on adoption of management practice. These results were not collated and were unavailable for this report.
In addition, the CRC for the Sustainable Development of Tropical Savannas conducts research pasture and production system in the area bordered by Townsville, across the gulf and top end and over to the Kimberley. Research from this CRC investiges how the landscape works and various savanna ecosystems function. This research assists in the development of sustainable production systems in this region.
How are Australian beef farmers working with other agricultural industries to overcome environmental challenges?
Beef produced in the southern region, and to a lesser extent in the northern region, generally forms either part of mixed farming systems or mixed farming regions. In these regions, beef is produced alongside the grains industry, a developing cotton industry and in parts the sheep industry. More extensive areas in the northern region support specialist beef producers.
Historic environmental issues that have the potential to impact on regional environmental values and beef production levels where mixed industries exist include:
- containment of herbicides through spray drift and runoff mobilisation
- runoff coordination affecting erosion rates and water flow pattern
- pasture decline increasing wind erosion rates
- habitat decline from large scale clearing
- emerging salinity in some regions
The resolution of these issues on a regional level requires ongoing research and development. The beef industry is involved in the agro-political planning processes through peak bodies, Landcare groups, catchment management bodies and local authorities. Through these organisational structures, they are working with other rural industries to manage the environmental effects and have input into industry codes and BMP's. Landcare group membership is particularly high in the pastoral zones. Wide environmental community concerns such as water quality, protection of biodiversity and use of land according to capability are considered through similar structures.
An example of a joint livestock industry response to a common regional issue is in the Western Division of New South Wales. In this region, beef and wool producers are confronted with similar environmental challenges that stem from the integration of their production systems into landscape systems. Native population grazing pressures (eg kangaroos), combined with pest populations such as rabbits, woody weeds and foxes, affect the production capacity of the pastoral systems to maintain adequate feed sources. In response, landholders in this region prepared a set of best practice guidelines on Total Grazing Pressure (TGP) that includes both production and landscape function related management responses. Key elements of these are:
- long-term stocking rate for the sustainable grazing of native pastures of approximately 30% utilisation of anticipated summer dry matter in 8 out of 10 years (20% for mulga pastures)
- avoid continual overgrazing allowing the pasture species to adequately set seed
- spell when the soil is moist to encourage pasture rejuvenation. Where dominated by annual grasses, spelling should be more frequent to encourage perennial species
- use highly palatable and nutritious grasses and herbs as indicators of pasture condition
- rehabilitate degraded areas through techniques such as:
- reduced grazing pressure
- prescribed burning- sowing introduced species
- re-introducing native species
- furrowing and water-ponding
- incorporate the following controls into the production system:
- pig control
- rabbit control
- woody weed management (fire, chemical, mechanical and biological)
- subdivisional fencing, according to watering points, landforms, soils and vegetation, as well as livestock type
- bore capping
- drought relief packages
The beef industry is a rural industry that faces a number of developing and expanding environmental challenges. These challenges are expected, as the industry is a major user of land resources. The developing salinity, vegetation management and degraded soils issues will require evaluations of the effects beef management practices have on wider landscape processes. The adoption of currently recommended management practices may require on-going development to respond to regionally specific issues and to emerging issues. In some of the more badly degraded areas, re-vegetation may be required, or at the very best, a change in farming system. These changes will /should be determined by the degradation process occurring. Failure to do so will result in the progressive decline in utility for the beef industry. The beef industry to date has demonstrated a readiness to respond regionally - the challenge will be to manage the effects of change in regional communities.
- Link to Map Maker
- "A spatially consistent sub-set of agricultural statistics (AgStats) data 1982/93 to 1996/97"
- "Benchmarking environmental challenges and agricultural practice - an overview" report - Summary
Link to related web sites:
- Ausmeat website
- Australian Lot Feeders Association website
- Cattle Council of Australia website
- Cooperative Research Centre for Cattle and Beef Quality website
- Meat and Livestock Australia website
- Producer Initiated Research and Development website
- CSIRO Livestock Industries website
Some documents on this website are available as PDF files. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view PDF files.
Links to an another web site
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