Gus's Musings

December 28, 2018

Resource Management in a Drought

At all times it is important to manage your resources as a farmer, especially when you are in a drought and pasture is in a non-growth phase, stock have reduced production and cash is steady or dwindling. While farmers are usually good at managing money, also at looking after livestock, pastures can sometimes miss out in the calculations.


Farmers can’t be expected to be good at all issues around running a farm, usually to cover all angles more input is required, this is maybe where use of consultants is important.  For instance here, we use a cashbook program and we benchmark to look after our money resource.  We employ stock agents and sheep classer to look after our stock, as well as other professionals around preg testing, marketing and handling skills.  Then with our pastures, that is my strong point, we still engage a consultant to help us budget our grass and give a distant perspective that is very valuable.


The same basic rules apply to managing each of these resource “pots”, that is making a budget and monitoring use towards that, so that each can be maintained at or above agreed minimum levels, until they can be refilled.  This is just part of the balancing act that successful livestock farmers need to do in order to run a quality sustainable/regenerative business


What I see is most people managing their money well, making sure that a drought doesn’t erode their equity levels, there stock too are normally well looked after, although the severity, the length and the cost of fodder has tested many this time around.  While some farmers have been proactive and placed stock in containment areas or sold them prior to their pastures being degraded, unfortunately many have placed their livestock and money inventories at a higher priority than landscape.


In a rangeland environment there isn’t the ability to either fertilise or re-sow pastures, so if you graze until you lose some species, then it may be many years of careful management before they return.  Usually after a significant drought through rangeland areas, stocking rates are lowered, partly due to a lack of confidence in the seasons and also due to reduced production.  The reduced production normally comes from reduced water infiltration and pasture composition, weeds and less palatable species tend to flourish.


Of course, we all know the tell tale signs of degraded pasture, with wind and water erosion and weeds going crazy, reducing these impacts potentially could be the best innovation in your business with long lasting returns.  Imagine being able to catch dust storms rather than start them, reducing runoff and catching rain where it falls to grow grass and “drive the soil”.  The result would instead be an increase in carrying capacity and the ability to grow plants for longer due to improved soil function.


I see management of pastures being an issue across vast tracts of landscape, overuse of pastures, even in areas where they can be improved, results in increased annual pasture base and green grass for less of the year.  The result of this is an increase in short term annual grass production, a spike that has wonderful weight gains, only until rain stops then grass dries up.  Increasing the growth season for grass and also the weight gains might just be a great step for some businesses.


A change in pasture management can also incorporate more pasture diversity so that it wouldn’t matter when rain fell, valuable plants would grow.  This would reduce impacts of climate change and securing your ability to run livestock through tough times, reducing hand feeding.  The result may also mean healthier livestock as they might be able to access more nutrients and medicines in the variety of plants.


Like most changes, the first step is to see that another outcome is achievable and then work out steps to move your business from where it is now to where you would like it to be.  There are many options and we can all improve the management of at least one of these inventories.


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