Collaboration – everybody’s a winner

Brian Wehlburg (left), Christine Jones and Dick Richardson led NQ Dry Tropics staff from three program areas through a masterclass to help them deliver better extension service to primary producers.

Extension staff take part in a master class in Collinsville

NQ Dry Tropics Grazing Field Officer Sam Skeat

NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer Sharon Cunial

Dick Richardson cradles a sample of the subject matter

CROSS team collaboration is a win for natural resource management, landholders, the environment, and the Great Barrier Reef.

NQ Dry Tropics is focused on its people and the collaboration between them to work towards a common goal – to partner with our stakeholders to create connected and functioning landscapes.  Cross team collaboration is a powerful tool in a culture of continuous improvement.

In May, 16 staff across three program areas – Sustainable Agriculture, Landholders Driving Change and Strategy and Partnerships – attended a masterclass with industry specialists Brian Wehlburg (Inside Outside Management), Dr Christine Jones (Amazing Carbon) and Dick Richardson (Grazing Naturally).

Supported by NQ Dry Tropics and funded by the Queensland Government Reef Water Quality Program Enhanced Extension Coordination project and Australian Government Reef Trust IV Stomping Out Sediment in the Burdekin project, the masterclass combined in-class lectures and discussion and a trip to Sonoma Station, Collinsville, to discuss grazing management and soil biological properties in-situ.

In line with the Enhanced Extension Coordination project intention, the trio of industry specialists helped extension officers to build their capacity around key grazing land management issues, particularly the linkages between grazing practices, soil health and pasture productivity.

While these linkages are complex across time, space and scale, Brian Wehlburg, Christine Jones and Dick Richardson were able to break down the complexities into key messages for extension officers to consider when they offer support to graziers in the Burdekin Dry Tropics region.

The experts offered the group insights into the interrelated relationships that exist between grazing practices, plants and soil microbiology.

Brian Wehlburg started the conversation about how people made decisions and how the Holistic Management framework helped to prompt graziers to consider all elements of a grazing system including people, natural resources and finances.

According to Brian, the framework was valuable because it could provide points for observation, discussion and reflection for extension officers when working with all kinds of landholders.

For grazing extension officers, the frameworks can be helpful as it identifies the positive role that grazing can have on ecosystem services such as improving the water-harvesting potential of pastures, nutrient cycling and maximising energy flow into pastures and carbon storage in the soil.   

According to Dick Richardson a pasture ‘fit for purpose’ is one where carbon enters the soil through its root system and less so through decomposition of surface leaf litter.  

This carbon flow is best when the plant is kept at its peak growth phase when leaves are most digestible. A grazing system that is not predictable, but rather employs planned disturbances or shocks can drive a pasture towards a composition of preferred species as well as help maintain the physiology of the plant for optimal nutritional value.

Christine Jones explained that the preferred carbon flow in grasslands was from root systems because it fed soil biology, and the results were more plant available nutrients, greater soil aggregation and therefore water infiltration and better humus development.

Christine said a shovel was the most important tool that extension officers could use in the paddock to demonstrate this.

Investigating the soil under the roots of plants in the best and poorest parts of a property can open up myriad conversations that are important for the grazier in terms of grazing business outcomes, but also implications for reef water quality outcomes.

All three guest presenters’ position was that any improvements to soil health had multiple flow-on benefits for the viability of a grazing business and the long term sustainability of our environment. 

This masterclass is part of a NQ Dry Tropics organisation-wide program to provide on-going training and support to staff.

In March, field staff took part in a one-day Paddock to Reef workshop, and was joined by the P2R Cross Regional Coordinator, NRM Regions Queensland.

In May, the Landholders Driving Change team took part in a two-day High Performance workshop with Jill Rigney, The Right Mind.

What the experts said:

Brian Wehlburg:

“It really is the ‘why’ behind ‘what’ and ‘how’ graziers operate, but it’s an incredibly uncomfortable, difficult statement to nail down.

However, once it’s there, all of the decisions within a grazing business become aligned to achieving that vision.

We can test all of our wants and needs against a series of questions that are designed to achieve our vision; those that stack up become obvious, and those that create the ‘noise’ in our businesses can be whittled out”.

Christine Jones:

“Since European settlement ‘we’ (humans) have simplified the landscape, reduced the diversity of plants and decimated the microbiome of soils.

We have heightened the impacts of droughts through inappropriate land management.

There are ways we can reverse this though, with grazing animals managed in tune with the land to build soil structure and microbiology, harvest rainfall, promote diverse plant communities and build profitable businesses.”

Dick Richardson:

“Nature works in patterns and wholes. As livestock managers, we need to constantly change the grazing patterns of animals to change the whole ecosystem.

We need to promote fit-for-purpose, grazing oriented communities of organisms that support high diversity, high productivity, and profitable businesses with regenerating soils.

We do this by constantly measuring available feed and matching stocking rate to carrying capacity.

In the wet, have goals on what you want paddocks and grass to look like, graze paddocks in a pattern that maximises performance but keep in mind recovery periods for destocking if the season suddenly fails.

In the dry, put appropriate classes of animals on appropriate feed, continually check available feed in front of mobs and prepare paddocks for the next wet.”

Brian Wehlburg

Pictured are (from left): Dick Richardson, the NQ Dry Tropics staff members who organised the master class, Linda Anderson (Enhanced Extension Coordination project), and Project Officer Rod Kerr (Stomping Out Sediment project) with Dr Christine Jones and Brian Wehlburg.