Diversification tipped to make millions for cattlemen

2524 Orange Creek Wally OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Wally Klein at Orange Creek cattle station can grow 100 bales of lucerne hay weighing half a tonne each, eight to 10 times a year on 11 hectares using his centre pivot irrigation system.

 

Running cattle on his 2400 square kilometre station is at the rate of two head per square kilometre. As weaners, 18 months old, they are worth, at today’s prices, around $600 each.

 

That puts the annual earnings per square kilometre (back-of-the envelope calculation) at $800 for grazing and just over $2m for growing fodder – a cool 2500 times as much.

 

That also puts into stark perspective the NT Government’s new policy of allowing diversification on pastoral leases which to date permit only free-range grazing.

 

Applied to roughly half of the Territory’s landmass this has the potential of hugely boosting the NT’s $23.6b Gross State Product to which pastoralism, at the moment, contributes a mere $1b.

 

Interestingly, the other half of the NT’s landmass is owned under freehold by Aboriginal people.

 

2524 Orange Creek sprayer 2Their land never had the use restrictions which the pastoral leases had but somehow, in 40 years of land rights, this hasn’t translated into the kind of bonanza that the cattlemen are looking forward to now.

 

All this comes on the back of a pretty good 2017 season when the ducks were in line for the industry: The property market was booming, and although a bit patchy, there was good rainfall. And cattle prices were high.

 

It hasn’t been as good as this since 2007, just before the Great Recession, says James Christian, Business Development Officer (Innovation) of the NT Cattlemen’s Association which has its annual meeting in Alice Springs today.

 

Several properties changed hands in The Centre last year. Tony Davis showed how it’s done, now owning about six properties in The Centre.

 

There is a “the sky’s the limit” spirit amongst the people under the big hats at the Convention Centre, branching out from grazing cattle into growing fodder, perhaps market gardening for human consumption and – who knows – eco-tourism. However, some Ts have yet to be crossed and Is dotted.

 

2524 Orange Creek cattleMr Klein’s two circular irrigated circular plots 100 kilometres south of Alice Springs can be seen from 35,000 feet flying from Singapore to Sydney.

 

Diversification has been a reality there since 1980 when the irrigation started, but this could only happen because the watered plots are freehold land, not leasehold, like most cattle land.

 

Mr Klein’s operation is an ambitious forerunner to what is set to unfold across rural NT: His dream is “beef from paddock to plate” from his property, usually running 4000 head, and may soon include a slaughter house producing meat for the Alice market, bush communities and roadhouses.

 

His mostly Hereford cattle provide meat of outstanding taste, he says.

 

They are brought in from bush grazing at about age two and get fattened up in the station’s own feed lot, using lucerne, sorghum, oats and wheat growing in the two irrigated patches on the station.

 

Mr Klein rotates the crop, and also includes wheat and potatoes for sale “down south”. The rotation is designed to replenish elements in the ground which the preceding crop has taken out.

 

Little fertisliser is used.

 

The plant growth is incredibly fast: Lucerne harvested last Sunday already has grown about 50mm.

 

Mr Klein says he can grow practically everything – so long as he can get a bigger water allocation.

 

And here is the amazing fact: He says despite substantial use of the underground water – 370 tonnes of plants were grown since last November, for example – the water level in the aquifer has not dropped at all in nearly three decades.

 

2524 Orange Creek Wally & IndonesianMr Christian says the NTCA is developing sound policies that protect the interests of all stakeholders.

 

An industry source says the diversification rules are still being worked out. For example, will pastoralists be allowed to lease out land for enterprises to third parties?

 

It seems that the lease holder will need to be a partner.

 

Government permission to embark on a production venture on the leased land may depend on the viability of the scheme. But how do you know it will work unless you try? How can you try without getting money from the bank which will lend only on the evidence of the project being feasible?

 

It’s a chicken and egg scenario, says the source.

 

PHOTOS: Wally Klein on Orange Creek station with a half-tonne bale of lucerne hay • One of the two centre pivot irrigation systems • Part of the herd in the feed lot • Mr Klein with a visitor from Indonesia.

 

 

 

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3 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Fred the Philistine
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    @ Pseudo: Unfortunately, the more you produce the less money the grower receives.
    I have to say, feed lotting cattle in the NT would not be so successful, due to weight loss in trucking the beasts down south to market.
    We did have an abattoir in Alice Springs once, but this was not so successful.
    Feed lotting cattle in the NT do better if they have adequate shade.

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  2. Psuedo Guru
    Posted March 26, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    The government must support viable “paddock to plate” ventures. Anarchy in Alice Springs must stop. Offenders to work in training camps on these properties under strict government control and supervision, to learn useful skills and improve NT prosperity.

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  3. Spot
    Posted March 24, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    It is very interesting that half of the Northern Territory is owned by Aboriginal people, but I doubt is is controlled by them. They seem to be only manipulated to suit the land council as can be seen with the incident at Yuendumu community kicking out those that seem to not be voting in favour of the council’s agenda.
    If it is freehold land why are they getting vast amounts of tax payers’ money to employ rangers to manage all this? Why are they called rangers? You would think they look after land that the general public could visit and appreciate, like a national park.
    Is it not a strictly controlled permit system. Yes, managed by the land council, but wouldn’t this be like the government paying the average house owner to mow their own back yard?
    And no, you can’t look over the fence.
    Why are the people not being assisted to move off the welfare mentality system and into the real economy by developing enterprises and contribute as tax payers, not be tax burdens.
    Or give taxpayers’ money to owners like Wally to employ workers to grow hay and catch cows.
    Or has the old carbon credits scheme, that we saw in an epic failure on properties like Henbury Station in the Northern Territory, raised its head again very quietly while every one is being distracted?
    Great work Wally Klein, on showing how to get things done.

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