Upfront Outback

Upfront Outback

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Landscape quilting

Prickly Acacia control is a bit like communal quilting: everyone has their own small square to take care of, and it isn’t until they’re all stitched together that you see the overall picture of a weed-free landscape. One place where the picture is shining through is Lorraine Station near Winton.

Throughout the region, and for several years, the Department of Transport and Main Roads has been treating the road corridor, as well as a protective buffer zone either side. At the same time, DCQ has been hitting hard the high seed producing areas to prevent downstream spread, and landholders have been getting the scattered stuff.

A month or so ago, Jim Wheeler, the Lorraine Station manager, got our misting crew in to clean up around a problem dam and along a creekline running down to the Landsborough Highway. This work joined up the TMR, DCQ and his previously treated areas and unveiled his corner of the weed-free landscape quilt.

As TMR, DCQ and the landholders of the region continue with their individual projects, more and more squares of the quilt will be stitched together and the landscape scale picture will emerge more clearly. While there is still a long way to go, the finished product promises to be a thing of beauty.

What have we achieved?

That is the vital question we should always ask at the conclusion of any undertaking where we seek to affect change. On a superficial level, we can take before and after photos and see the difference; however, with environmental projects, where the project work is seeking to improve the functioning of an ecosystem, photos of trees and grass don’t tell the full story.

To understand what is achieved by any investment in an environmental project, we need to measure, before the project work commences, how well the site is functioning from a biological perspective. This establishes the baseline against which future measurements are compared. After the project has concluded, and the site has experienced the seasonal conditions to recover, we then measure that biological functioning again.

With this in mind, Desert Channels Foundation recently conducted the baseline biological survey for a Mitchell Grass Downs site on Nuken Station, north-west of Winton. This comprehensive survey entailed camera traps, physical traps, bird song meters and bat recorders, along with detailed physical assessments of site condition and the species present.

Unsurprisingly, the heart of the Prickly Acacia infestation was found to be biologically dysfunctional. Also unsurprisingly, less than 500 metres away, grassland without Prickly Acacia was found to be highly functional.

Our expectation is that when we have eradicated the Prickly Acacia from the site, and Nuken has enjoyed a good season, the current biological dysfunction will be replaced with high-functioning Mitchell Grass habitat with the attendant production benefits.

New toy tool

One of the really interesting aspects of our weed control R&D over the past six years has been the development of transformational misting techniques to further reduce the cost of large-scale weed control. We now have the ability to apply herbicide at specific rates that kill Prickly Acacia, but don’t harm the Coolibah and other native vegetation.

This has been one of those ‘overnight successes’ that are many years in the making. And to help roll that success out to more areas, we’ve recently taken delivery of our latest misting machine, a Hardi Zebra 600 fresh off the boat from Spain – thanks to the friendly crew at Vanderfield, Emerald.

Our old mister will be stationed at Eldorado near Stamford, for use by landholders in that northern part of our region, while the Zebra will be based out of Longreach and operate mainly in the eastern parts.

E-Beef at Gydia Park

As a designated Smart Farm under the E-Beef project, Gydia Park was host to our latest field day on 4th October. The day was held under the Gidyea trees around the Brunners Outstation dam, 45 kilometres south-west of Isisford, but the warmth, dust and flies didn’t deter almost 90 people turning up to hear about how the latest technology is driving efficiencies for today’s high tech grazing enterprises. From walk-over-weighing, satellite pasture monitoring, management software and financial analysis software, to pasture identification, grazing management, livestock nutrition, woody weed control and drone use, there was something for everyone.

The star attraction was the newly installed walk-over-weigh unit which monitors cattle live weights which are then combined with high-tech pasture monitoring data to assist the producer in making informed management decisions. The high tech side of things included normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) which uses satellite data to determine pasture greenness, and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) which is used to determine the quality of pasture.

While Gydia Park is the designated E-Beef Smart Farm with the walk-over-weigh unit, other producers in the area can become Innovation Hub members, connecting the pasture-greenness and cattle live-weight data produced at Gydia Park with their own grazing enterprise to create a more informed understanding of the relationship between current pasture levels and cattle condition. Each member of the Innovation Hub can also access Agrihive’s FarmECCO business analysis software to explore the impact of carious management decision scenarios on their business profitability.

The innovative E-Beef project is a partnership between Southern Gulf NRM, DCQ, Northern Gulf Resource Management Group and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Smart Farming Partnerships Program, a component of the National Landcare Program, the project works with grazing businesses to demonstrate innovative technologies to improve grazing profitability.

Special thanks to Dick Cribb of Gydia Park for hosting this highly successful field day. And thanks to the presenters who helped make the day so interesting, the producers who travelled from far and wide to expand their knowledge and, especially, the Isisford State School P&C Committee for their wonderful catering.

For posterity

The full name of the E-Beef project is E-Beef Smart Farming in Northern Queensland but it’s so much more. Firstly, while it does cover northern Queensland, it also covers the west; secondly, while it’s being rolled out in Queensland’s rangelands, it’s applicable to rangelands anywhere in the world.

This really innovative project is being led by Southern Gulf NRM in partnership with DCQ, Northern Gulf Resource Management Group and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

And to share the knowledge generated by the project as widely as possible, Southern Gulf NRM has engaged our commercial arm, DC Solutions, to chronicle the project across 19 videos permanently hosted on a dedicated YouTube channel where cattle producers the world over can share in the lessons of using technologies to drive efficiencies in grazing management… stay tuned.

Whispering chainsaws

It certainly doesn’t make sense as an adjective, but as a verb, whispering is spot on. Known as the Chainsaw Whisperer, Rod Miller of Millettia Solutions, spent a couple of days with some of our team teaching them the finer arts of safe and effective chainsaw operation.

Rod provided personalised tuition and hands-on experience on felling trees, trimming and cutting felled trees and chainsaw maintenance.

Our Field Supervisor, Peter Spence, has used chainsaws for many years, both as a landholder and as a local government employee and has undertaken several of these types of training days. He reckons this was the best, hands down. Peter said not only was there a lot of one-on-one, but Rod covered skills and issues relevant to our working environment.

Drones in Ag

After more than six years of trialling, testing and perfecting the use of drones in western conditions, it was great to be invited to deliver a ‘drones in agriculture in western Queensland’ segment at the recent Outback Aerodrone Symposium in Barcaldine, run by the Remote Area Planning and Development Board.

Pete Spence and Doug Allpass shared our collective experiences with 40 very interested people who wanted to hear the practical operational things we’d learnt racking up over 700 flights covering more than 1,600 kilometres – our delivery partner, PBE Services, has exceeded 2,500 flights, mostly with their Yamaha Rmax helicopter drone.

The most important thing for our dry, dusty western environment is using a landing pad – a piece of light coloured canvas, mat or plywood… anything that absorbs the heat is a no go. If you don’t use a pad, the dust created at takeoffs and landings gets into the camera gimbal and very quickly wrecks it.

Our presentation followed a similar format to an earlier forum in Muttaburra… based on the response in Barcaldine, it looks like Jundah and Boulia would like us to visit to give their local landholders access to our expertise. Onwards and upwards…

New releases

On the YouTube video front we’ve recently liberated another five minutes of digital delight onto the unsuspecting denizens of the internet. Our latest cinematic triumph explores the challenges and successes of eradicating Prickly Acacia from the Mitchell Grass Downs of Auteuil near Aramac.

As owner Jeff Wells so eloquently states, now that he’s got the Prickly Acacia under control and the infrastructure up to scratch, it’s now time to sit back and enjoy the place. Check it out here.

And… Bits, Bytes and Megabytes are currently littering the virtual cutting room as we digitally splice footage into an engaging short overview of Desert Channels Foundation’s latest funded project, a biological survey done to establish a baseline before restoration work gets underway on Julia Creek Dunnart habitat… stay tuned.

Weed book

The weed-o-philes amongst you might be interested in an upcoming publication called Weeds of Central and Northern Queensland – 1st edition. Printed in the next few months by the Weed Society of Queensland, this A4-size, magazine-type tome will be a sister publication to Weeds of Southern Queensland – 4th edition.

For orders, contact Janet Barker on janet_barker@bigpond.com or 0411 864 203.


Last word

Given that research is a vital part of informed decision making, the landholders amongst our readers might like to participate in a survey looking at the willingness of Queensland farmers to engage in natural resource management practices, their beliefs, attitudes and ability to afford NRM activities, and how incentives and education programs could best be structured.

For more information, contact researcher Natalie Hughes on 0428 565 939, at nhughes9@myune.edu.au or simply do the survey.