Upfront Outback

Upfront Outback

Welcome to Upfront Outback

Previous Editions

New Chair; old friend

At our recent AGM we scored a new Chair in the shape of NRM stalwart, former Charleville district grazier, immediate past CEO of NRM Regions Queensland, former CEO of the Queensland Murray Darling Committee, current Chair of the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum Community Advisory Committee, and long-time supporter and friend of DCQ, Andrew Drysdale.

After growing up in the Augathella district running his own place for 16 years, a fear of boarding school fees drove him to move to Toowoomba where he carved a career in helping land managers with issues like salinity, weeds, feral animals, habitat protection and erosion control.

Equally at home in the corridors of Parliament House or around the back of a mob of sheep, Andrew is acutely aware of the challenges facing small, remote NRM organisations like DCQ. “Competing with world-renowned icons such as the Great Barrier Reef for shrinking available funds is a huge challenge for an outback NRM group,” he said. “As is trying to get governments to understand the real cost of doing business in remote Australia, and attracting funding and staff away from the high population areas.”

Andrew, our fourth Chair in our 16 year history, replaces Dom Burden who, after a three year term, needed more time to devote to other interests and commitments. We wish them both well.

E-Beef Smart Farm

It’s only just kicking off, but the E-Beef Smart Farm Project, in which we’re a collaborator, is shaping to be a significant contributor to lifting productivity in the rangeland grazing country of almost half of Queensland.

This four year project funded by the Australian Government’s Smart Farming Partnerships Program, with co-funding from the Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaption Program, will feature a number of demonstration properties, innovation hubs, or learning groups, and technology trials across west and northwest Queensland from the NSW border to the Gulf and halfway up Cape York.

The E-Beef Smart Farming project is led by Mt Isa-based Southern Gulf NRM, and is delivered in partnership with DCQ, Northern Gulf Resource Management Group out of Mareeba, and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as industry partners as the project progresses.
At the core of the project is the establishment in each of the three regions of E-Beef Smart Farms that will be a focus for demonstration and extension activities, and demonstrating that groundcover, land condition, animal performance and marketing are intrinsically linked, and that business resilience is strengthened through integrated management of both natural resources and animal production.

Another key component of the Smart Farm activities will be AgriHive’s FarmEcco system of grazing enterprise business analysis developed by Longreach district grazier, James Walker. FarmEcco’s engaging, interactive interface allows producers to analyse all aspects of their business without having to pore over indecipherable spreadsheets.
As well as establishing regionally relevant smart farms using innovative technology to enhance grazing management, the project will include a comprehensive extension program to accelerate the uptake of whole-of-business grazing best management that when adopted will improve the natural resource base and profitability of beef enterprises.
Graziers will have the opportunity to see, touch and discuss the application of new and innovative technologies that will improve their grazing and land management, profitability and adaptability at demonstration E-Beef Smart Farms and E-Beef innovation hubs.

E-Beef Smart Farms will be selected through an open expression of interest process closing on 21st January 2019, so if you’re a grazier in the west, northwest, or around the Gulf and onto the Cape, contact your local NRM group to get involved.

Feel the burn

After four years of being locked away from hungry mouths and erant sparks, the rejuvenated Mitchell Grass pasture at our monitoring plot on Auteuil went into decline. The plot started at less than 100 kilograms per hectare when we treated the Prickly Acacia in 2013, and it recovered to 2,250 kilograms per hectare before losing its puff.
This tough, drought-resistant grass of the inland can live up to 30 years, but it loses its vigour and can die out if not grazed or burnt on a regular basis… it evolved to cope with the intermittent grazing and regular fires of pre-European times.

So, we decided a burn was the way to go. And now that we have, several new phases of research open up.

Firstly, we are now visiting the site every month to coincide with the passage of a monitoring satellite that is capturing landscape and vegetation colour reflectants. Our detailed observations on the ground are then used by specialists to calibrate the satellite imagery to the actual ground conditions at the time the image was taken.

Secondly, we’re looking for some appropriately skilled and dedicated volunteers who can monitor the biodiversity recovery on the site each winter for the next four years. If you’re interested, give us a call on 07 4658 0600, or email info@dcq.org.au.

Firehawks

In 200 years of observation, Europeans in Australia’s bush have noticed that raptors are attracted to fires. These birds of prey have learned that they can score an easy feed off the fleeing fauna at the margins of the flames. And, if the observations of 40,000 years of Aboriginal people in northern Australia are given the same credence, the likes of the Whistling Kite and the Black Kite actively spread fire to new areas to flush out prey.

These so called ‘firehawks’ carry smouldering sticks in talon or beak to light new fires, generating a new smorgasbord, and a new study is attempting to get definitive proof. Is it coincidence, or is it a deliberate, learned strategy that returns great reward for the lucky carrier of the clever genes.

One of the researchers said they aren’t discovering anything new, simply seeking to formally validate what Aboriginal people have known for 40,000 years or more.
“We’re not discovering anything,” one of the team, geographer Mark Bonta from Penn State Altoona, told National Geographic.

Waipuldanya (Phillip Roberts) is quoted in the 1962 book, I, the Aboriginal, as saying, “I have seen a hawk pick up a smouldering stick in its claws and drop it in a fresh patch of dry grass half a mile away, then wait with its mates for the mad exodus of scorched and frightened rodents and reptiles.”

Sap suckers

As part of our trials into the control of a Mother-of-millions infestation across Ravensbourne Creek on the Blackall to Adavale road for the Department of Transport and Main Roads, we have moved into the biological control stage, having already completed the chemical and fire phases.

In late October, we released a sap sucking insect, wide spread in Mother-of-millions infestations in other parts of Queensland, at a number of monitoring points on the Ravensbourne Creek site.

Even though seasonal conditions are dry, and the host plants stressed, we hope the little suckers prove to be an added stress that causes the plants to die before the next rains. If the insects prove successful, we will be looking at more widespread introductions in conjunction with affected landholders to see if we can get the infestations to a manageable size where they can be mopped up with herbicide.

Mother-of-millions, an escaped ornamental garden plant originally from Madagascar, is extremely invasive and well adapted to dry areas. It can be lethal to cattle, particularly in dry times when feed is scarce.

Busting bellyache

The Stawell River is a sandy ribbon that carries infrequent runoff from the basalt country north of Hughenden, west then south into the Flinders River near Richmond. Ubiquitous River Redgums plumb the moisture-retaining depths of the sandy river bed, while in their shade, lurks a nefarious garden escapee, Jatropha gossypiifolia, better known as Bellyache Bush.

Bellyache Bush is an invasive plant from tropical America that out-competes native pasture and is poisonous to livestock and humans… another ornamental plant imported in ignorance, spread through apathy, and controlled at great expense. Which is why we’ve been doing some work on the Stawell River, with support from Biosecurity Queensland and Southern Gulf NRM.

Given our experience and success in large-scale weed control research and development, we scored funding from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to conduct trials on using misters to control Bellyache Bush, Rubbervine and Prickly Acacia.

Under the guidance of Dr Wayne Vogler of Biosecurity Queensland’s Tropical Weed Research Centre in Charters Towers, we’ve not only been trialling application rates, accuracy and drift mitigation, we’ve been testing the boundaries on weather conditions and time of day to see how wide we can push the effective kill rate window.

In addition, we’re optimising the use of an ATV-towed, trailer-mounted misther to overcome access issues, and developing a set of standard operating procedures so that by the end of the project, we’ll have another control tool to roll out to the wider landholder community.

Mandarin guides

One of the seven tourism megatrends identified recently by the CSIRO and Queensland Government is called The Orient Express. With the world economy shifting from west to east and north to south, new markets and new sources of competition are being created.

And with Australia’s reputation for unique, animals, plants and landscapes, international tourist numbers, particularly from Asia, continue to boom. In the 12 months to the end of February 2018, 1.39 million Chinese visitors came to our shores, eclipsing our trans Tasman cousins as our largest visitor source.

While not much of the estimated $10.4 billion they spent in this country found its way into western Queensland pockets, that is bound to change as products are developed to offer a unique experience of unspoilt landscapes, wide open spaces, strange flora, weird fauna and a totally alien culture.
But the downside of increased visitation is that the very places people come to see, risk being loved to death, which is why we see ourselves having a pivotal role in working with tourism bodies and operators to ensure that our natural places develop greater resilience in the face of greater visitation.

By working together we can build a stronger regional tourism sector, and a stronger regional economy, through building greater awareness and appreciation of our native species, our ecosystems, our wide-open spaces and our unique culture.

Tourism is big business. Nationally, it currently employs more than the agriculture and mining sectors combined.
And with Chinese tourists now dominating the Australian market, who knows, western Queensland’s employment opportunity of the future may well be for Mandarin speaking tour guides.