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Turning threats into opportunities

Member Profile: Jody Brown

L-R: Jenny, Jody, George, Wendy, Sandy and Donald crouching in foreground

With her parents Donald and Wendy (long-time AgForce members), Jody Brown runs purebred Droughtmasters on their properties “Latrobe” and “Arlington Park” south of Longreach, which is just as well considering she’s spent nearly three quarters of the past two decades in drought.

Over many years, Jody and her parents have experimented with a range of drought management tactics: feeding drought supplements to their livestock, droving, selling stock early, and agistment.

For a time, agistment proved the most useful option, allowing them to stay in production, sometimes in fattening country, which meant they could capture a premium for their organic cattle while simultaneously maintaining their breeding herd and most valuable genetics.  

However, with the increasing severity and widening of the drought, it became almost impossible to find suitable agistment country, especially if they wanted to maintain their organic status.

So in December 2017, they made the decision to buy “Dimond Downs”, a small cattle property east of Maryborough on the Fraser Coast, essentially choosing country in a more reliable rainfall area to at least safeguard a portion of their breeding herd. 

“We were still looking for ways to increase the resiliency and health of our western country, though,” Jody said.

“So along with my parents, we started exploring alternatives to our traditional grazing management practices.

“That coincided with mum and dad giving me the chance to essentially manage the grazing system at “Latrobe” by myself, which was when I began pursuing more regenerative outcomes.

“We had always spelled country when we felt it was required, but mostly ran our cattle in multiple herds, spread out across large areas at a time.

“I was determined to try and bunch them up into fewer but larger mobs and move them across the land more quickly, in a way that responded directly to the amount of pasture available.

“So I bunched the cattle up to the largest size mob that our lowest capacity watering point could handle, and began rotating them using our existing paddocks and infrastructure.”

Jody said that while the three-year stint the breeders had on agistment in South Australia helped with pasture recovery, she was exceptionally pleased with the results of the trial, as were her parents, especially when they saw the response following some rainfall. 

“We have destocked our cattle country numerous times for significant periods in the last 20 to 30 years,” Jody said.

“But we had never seen the land respond like that without a lot more rain.

“That’s why I firmly believe our pasture response has been substantially improved since the shift in grazing practices.

“I’m definitely no guru. I have a lot to learn and I’m just at the beginning.

“But sometimes the biggest first step is that change between your ears – the rest seems to follow in due course.

Jodi said that although there are many regenerative grazing practitioners in Australia, she drew inspiration from two Mexican ranchers because she had found it difficult to locate graziers in arid to semi-arid environments who were openly sharing the results of their endeavours. 

“Dad in particular wanted to speak to someone who understood the challenges of managing in an arid, drought-prone environment,” Jody said.

“That was what led us to chatting to the Mexican ranchers via Skype.

“They’re part of a group managing holistically in the Chihuahua desert, and achieving incredible results in a low rainfall, drought-stricken area.

“If anybody is looking for a dose of inspiration, I recommend looking up Alejandro Carrillo and Pasticultores del Desierto – their work is remarkable, and the videos and pictures are fantastic.

“That Skype chat, and my experiments on the ground, led to my parents engaging the services of a holistic-background educator to spend time on all of our properties, teaching us more about managing from an ecological perspective and giving us the confidence to pursue further knowledge and to put that knowledge in to practise.”

Jody said that there was no single silver bullet to managing your way through Queensland’s volatile climate.

But that as a young beef producer looking to the future, she had concerns about the impacts of climate change fuelling a hotter and drier climate, and the threats that presented to the industry’s markets as a result of any negative perceptions by consumers.

“Transforming threats into opportunities is possible if we can successfully learn how to sequester carbon from the atmosphere into the soil and simultaneously increase the soil’s capacity to absorb and store water,” Jody said.

“I’m working towards this goal not only for the benefits and personal pleasure of seeing our properties and businesses thrive, but also for the opportunity to share good stories with the public, and to hopefully help bridge the sometimes-daunting gap between producers and consumers.

“It doesn’t necessarily matter if you don’t have a lot of resources right now to make massive changes.

“Start with what you’ve got and see where that takes you.

“We’re never going to do everything perfectly at the beginning anyway, and a key ingredient to success is the failures and lessons learnt along the way.

“At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself!” 

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