Issue 21, January - April 2002

Beef industry needs profits to be sustainable

The Northern Australia Beef Industry Conference (NABIC) held in Kununurra in November 2001, provided a chance for northern producers and researchers to get together and set directions for future research in the industry. Savanna Links spoke to the main organiser, Kaz Price , from Department of Agriculture—WA.

What were the take-home messages from the conference?
Firstly, that sustainability must be linked to profitability. Producers will be more prepared to institute Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and other Natural Resource Management (NRM) strategies if it can be demonstrated that it will link back to profitability. NRM will have long-term benefits for marketing their produce and environmental benefits as well. Secondly, a warning about market complacency: delegates were reminded that our live export industries deal in volatile economies and new market development and maintaining market access was critical.

That first message implies that there’s still a gap between sustainable land management research and its relevance to the producer.
Yes there is, and that came up in the ‘Increasing Producer Demand for Knowledge’ session. This session was about the fact that producers just aren’t taking up specific bundles of information, perhaps because it’s not marketed correctly and not hitting the appropriate target group.

Any explanation for why that might be the case? Because this gap has been talked about for some time.
I really think there is an issue with the uptake of learning generally, for example, the sort of work that Allan Arnott (TS-CRC and Northern Territory University) identifies, that there are specific groups that producers are more likely to take up knowledge from, such as other producers.

It’s also about the ability to use new knowledge—one thing that came out in the NRM session was that big company properties can put new research into practice much more easily than an individual owner-operator.

Given that there are a lot of owner-operators out there, is a different approach needed for them?
To be honest, I think that the company properties are going to demonstrate the sort of improvement that will encourage owner-operators to follow them, for example, the work that Heytesbury and NAPCO are doing.

Aside from the large companies, is there anything that government extension services are doing that has been well received by producers?
Yes. One example was the work that Hugh Pringle and Ken Tinley from CALM are involved in with the Environmental Management Unit out of Kalgoorlie. Their work is very much a genuine partnership where they are getting the existing knowledge of the producer to align with the theoretical knowledge held in mapping systems and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This will help establish management plans for properties that take into account land systems and waters, with production plans that the producer wants. They’ve got enough runs on the board now so that producers are approaching them.

The other thing that seemed to come out was the importance of targeting environmental information .
Yes, training has to be more specifically targeted in terms of people’s needs, training that is ‘just-in-time’ where people can get what is relevant at the time. It may be as basic as a group doing a GIS course to be of practical help in their EMS. Or it might be a course that links EMS with how markets work, perhaps how Asian markets work.

There were also suggestions that the more applicable training units were going to be those that were developed in consultation with industry. At one workshop people were looking forward to a forthcoming MLA educational product—Edge Network —which had been produced in consultation and collaboration with industry.

Also it was mentioned that training courses have to be held at the right time of year .
Seasonality is important. There’s a feeling that, especially for owner-operators, if courses continue to be run in the dry season, they have to accept that they’re not going to get a huge roll-up of people because that’s right in the middle of their main production period.

Any final points Kaz?
People were adamant that this style of conference continued, that the MLA run it every two years, and it be hosted in turn by the WA Department of Agriculture and the Qld and NT Departments of Primary Industry.

The conference was organised by the Department of Agriculture—Western Australia and supported by Meat & Livestock Australia and the TS-CRC.

*Click on the links below to read about Allan's work. A PDF is also available of the key findings, as well as a booklet detailing the study.


Stories of learning and change: Key findings
Dr Allan Arnott, Northern Territory University [pdf 38.5 kb]