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Australian Cattle Council : Yearbook 2008
page 32 C aTTL e COUNCIL OF a USTR a LI a Y ea RBOOK 2008 2008 Rural awareness Tour – Touring the Top end Rebecca Jennings, Queensland Country Life Livestock Editor eleven key livestock policy makers arrived home to Canberra and Sydney last month, with dusty boots and plenty of stories to tell. In less than a week, they had experienced the Northern Territory beef industry from all angles - starting with a bird’s eye view of the top end from a chopper, and ending with a dusty drive through Central australia. Representing a range of government departments - such as animal Health australia, the National Residue Survey, the Department of agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Bureau of Rural Sciences, aQIS, aBaRe and MLa - they were participants in the annual Cattle Council of australia (CCa) Rural awareness Tour. Now in its 17th year, the week-long tour, known as ‘RaT’, has taken more than 150 Canberra-based policy makers out of their offices and into the beef industry to gain first-hand knowledge of the issues affecting australian producers. This year’s tour, hosted by CCa president Bill Bray, policy director Jed Matz and policy officer Rachel galvin, delivered grass-roots insights into the NT’s beef supply chain - and if the RaT participants expected an eye- opening experience, they were not disappointed. First stop was the NT Cattlemen’s association’s annual conference in Darwin, where big-picture issues were top of the agenda - from the impact of climate and economic changes to the opportunities and threats facing australia’s domestic and export beef markets. armed with a better understanding of the broad issues facing the northern beef industry, the Rural awareness Tour then headed bush - into the wetlands of Melaleuca Station, 200km east of Darwin. The variety of fauna on show at the paspaley pearl- owned station was a talking point - a chopper ride across the station revealed crocodiles, barramundi, and wild pigs in addition to the commercial Brahman and buffalo herds. However, it was the mimosa control program being undertaken by Melaleuca managers Tony and Julie Searle that proved to be most impressive. The 300sq km station features 60 percent seasonally inundated flood plains with fresh and saltwater river systems, and 40pc tropical savannah woodland. prior to paspaley ownership, the mimosa infestation at Melaleuca went unchecked - by 1995 one third of the property was overrun, rendering the grazing country useless. When Tony Searle took over management, the carrying capacity was just 200 head; but now, after 12 years of clearing, cautious management, on-going maintenance and plenty of patience, Tony and his staff have slowly chipped away at the mimosa. Using a range of methods, such as clearing, spraying, and biological trials, they have boosted stocking rates as high as 6000 head in the dry season. Halfway through the mimosa control program, Tony hopes to boost the dry-season carrying capacity at Meleuca by another 5000-6000 head. “It takes two years before light grazing takes place (after mimosa is cleared) and a further three years before full production is achieved,” Tony explained. When asked if he found the frustration of not only clearing mimosa, but also having to maintain the rapid regrowth of land already cleared, too much to handle at times, Tony did not hesitate in replying. “No, it’s not demoralising as we are seeing returns for the effort,” he explained. “along with productivity gains, the impact to the environmental landscape is very rewarding. If I have a bad day, I just go and look at a paddock that has not been cleared yet, to remind myself how far we have come. “Melaleuca is at the frontline of containing mimosa in the top end - but if we stopped clearing, in five years you wouldn’t know we had even been here.” With this warning to the importance of land management ringing in their ears, the RaT participants bid farewell to Melaleuca’s mimosa warriors and headed back to Darwin. Next stop was the NT DpIF&M’s Berimah Farm research station, where the Territory’s chief veterinary officer Brian