Meet Owen and Brigid Price, graziers in Central Queensland

Owen and Brigid Price on their property
© Queensland Government

Brigid and Owen Price are adopting industry best practice beef production systems to boost productivity and profits and reduce their environmental footprint for coming generations.

The couple, and their three children farm at Injune and Rockhampton in the Great Barrier Reef catchment and strive to be viable and sustainable by optimising pastures and reducing nutrient, sediment and chemical run-off.

The Price family runs 4000 adult equivalent (AE) commercial Droughtmaster-cross, grass-fed cattle on 20,000 hectares north of Injune and recently bought a new block at Rockhampton with 2500AE on 7600 hectares to use for breeding with Belmont Red bulls thats only 20 kilometres from the beach as the crow flies.

The Prices are involved in several key industry programs focused on sustainability and productivity and are very aware of the importance of on-farm practices when it comes to protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Mrs Price said it was important that any tactic they used on-farm needed to maximise environmental outcomes, as that is what drives production gain and profitability. The family is open to new ideas and trying new technology, having recently introduced an Optiweigh to weigh cattle in the paddock as a more efficient practice. This walk-on weighing system provides invaluable data about daily weight gains or deficits so that there are no surprises.

It also means firm plans for selling can be made up to six weeks in advance of stock leaving the property.

Regular weighing has shown that in the past six months, feeder cattle grazed on grass at Injune have been gaining 0.7kg per head per day on average. Cattle grazed on an improved leucaena legume pasture have almost doubled that rate at 1.3kg/head/day. The Prices recently signed up for Cibolabs pasture imagery service, which provides a satellite-driven estimation of pasture biomass. This is helping with decisions about stocking rates, feed budgets and land management.

"It is also picking up where there are poorer parts of paddocks so we can address these before they become a big problem," Mrs Price said.

"It is showing where we need to undertake regenerative level contouring or contour ripping."

Coupled with a major water infrastructure program, the Prices now have early warning systems if things go awry with feeding and water and can fix any issues fast.

Mr Price said they had put in an extra 60 water points so that cattle don't walk more than 1km to get water.

"This spreads the cattle out across the paddock, reducing grazing pressure at watering points while ensuring a more even utilisation of pasture," he said.

"And we are seeing improved calving rates and weaning weights because the stock are moving less."

The Prices are undertaking several measures for erosion control, such as deep ripping and sowing legumes to keep water in the soil for business productivity and to reduce run-off.

To keep nutrient use to a minimum, they use rotational grazing based on a third of pasture content used as feed, one third being knocked down by the cattle and one third being left as "trash" in the paddock.

"This is having a positive spin-off in reducing erosion, but enabling us to optimise stocking rates at the same time," Mr Price said.

The Prices were one of the first certified Grazing Best Management Practice (BMP) program participants that assessed their business against 150 international standards. Mr Price said this involved close assessment of soil health, grazing land management, animal production, animal health and welfare and people in the business.

"This program resulted in our business developing policies and procedures for both how and why we do business," he said.

Mr Price said they were also part of the Grazing Resilience and Sustainable Solutions (GRASS) program, which DAF delivers to support graziers in the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions. Its focus is on improving land that is in poor condition and is funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality program.

The Prices have hosted a pasture dieback field day on their property after dealing with this issue at their Injune properties over the past 18 months, and a legume field day. They have been guest presenters at the Young Beef Producers Forum and the new Advancing Beef Leaders program, where Mrs Price is a mentor. This program is designed to give emerging leaders in the beef industry the skills and support to become future leaders. It is delivered in partnership between DAF extension officers and private contractors, and is funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality program.

The Price family also participates in the Northern Breeding Business (NB2) program, which is implemented by DAF and co-funded by DAF and Meat & Livestock Australia. This seeks to improve production rates, decrease mortality, increase turn-off weights and improve genetic potential in northern beef herds. Mrs Price said one of the best parts about this program was the welcomed involvement of their children.

"Our son Rob is the project manager for the regenerative activities and watering upgrades and we appreciate the opportunity for an 18-year-old to be exposed to latest research and Industry experts," she said.

The Prices closely monitor grazing on their properties and manage sustainable stocking rates. DAF has worked with them on devising supplement rations, vaccination regimes and calving times for their recently-purchased coastal country. Mr Price said that advice had laid the foundation for deciding how to best manage that block and assess the opportunities for breeding and feeding.

"Overall, we want to stay on the ball with technologies for production efficiencies and managing the environment," he said.

"The department has also advised and assisted with new pasture planting on our Arcadia Valley country that has been significantly impacted by pasture dieback.

"We have worked closely with DAF pasture, nutritionist and livestock advisers over many years to access the latest tools and advice we need to be more viable and sustainable."

To find out more about the implications of moving to innovative farm practices, call the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on 13 25 23 or visit Farming in the Great Barrier Reef catchments.