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Beyond the Bale : June August 2009
10 PASTURES June – August 2009 BeyonD the Bale Software assesses high fertiliser prices A new version of the computer program GrassGro® is helping farmers optimise their profits and environment in the face of high fertiliser prices By Fiona Conroy and risks that variable weather imposes on the profitability and sustainability of grazing systems. It is based on decades of research from across Australia and focuses on the physical and business results of management decisions. CSIRO’s Dr Karel Mokany says the new D GrassGro® v3 has a range of improvements compared with previous versions including: l detailed descriptions of sheep and beef enterprises; l a capacity to test a range of management options as the season develops; l automatic reporting; l predesigned issues for analysis; l access to constantly updated weather data; and l an evaluation of possible long-term shifts in weather patterns. Figure 1 The effect of fertiliser price on mean gross margin Mean gross margin at sustainable optimum stocking rate ($/ha/yr) 100 200 300 400 500 0 0 $250/t 100 $540/t 200 $750/t 300 400 Maintenance fertiliser applied (kg superphosphate/ha/yr) $1000/t eveloped by CSIRO with AWI funding, GrassGro® helps analyse opportunities Dr Mokany and NSW Department of Primary Industries sheep officer Phil Graham recently put GrassGro® v3 through its paces to assess the best approach to optimise profitability in the face of high fertiliser prices. “There is a general concern among farm advisers on what is the best approach for their clients when fertiliser prices are high,” Dr Mokany says. The analysis tested the best management approach at superphosphate prices of $250 a tonne, $540/t, $750/t and $1000/t and the results were validated using pasture growth rates and responses from sites at Bookham in NSW and Hamilton in Victoria. The results found the optimum fertiliser rate did not change markedly as fertiliser prices increased, even at the highest levels, but rising prices narrowed the range of fertiliser and stocking rates that were financially viable in the long term (Figures 1 and 2). “It was clear that selecting the appropriate stocking rate is essential to get a balance between what is environmentally sustainable and produces the optimum financial return,” Dr Mokany says. “We found the optimal management approach didn’t change, but the margins differed. Conservative stocking rates became less viable as fertiliser prices increased because greater production was required to cover the higher input costs.” The new program has also been used to weigh up the benefits of changing grazing enterprises, according to Phil Graham. “There are so many considerations to take into account when changing enterprises that there is a risk of graziers making decisions on simplistic calculations and going backwards financially,” Phil says. “Using GrassGro® v3 ensures all aspects of the changes are taken into account, assessed objectively, and linked back to overall farm profitability and sustainability. Some farmers often fall into the trap of doing their calculations on a per-head basis and don’t get an overall picture of farm profitability.” The program takes into account different dry sheep equivalent (DSE) ratings and feed requirements for different breeds, as well as changes in seasonal animal demand, and links them back to pasture availability and gross margin per hectare. Numerous government and private farm advisers are trained to use GrassGro® to help farmers and farmer groups address complex management for short and longterm issues. These often include: l the long-term merit of different enterprises and enterprise mixes, changing lambing or calving times, breeds or bloodlines and the ability of the enterprise to cope with seasonal variation; l short-term decisions, feed purchases during drought, anticipated pasture supply, assessing the ability of animals to reach target weights and production benchmarks; and l business management to assess the risk of reaching contracts and managing a supply chain involving livestock. GrassGro® has been available commercially since 1997 and has been widely adopted by agricultural advisers, researchers, tertiary educators and policy makers. More information: Dr Andrew Moore, CSIRO, 02 6246 5298, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.hzn.com.au/grassgro.php Figure 2 Best management approach at varying fertiliser prices, from $250 to $1000 per tonne Rising fertiliser prices narrow the range of fertiliser and stocking rates that are financially viable in the long term. at $250/t Stocking rate (wethers/ha) 15 20 25 30 35 10 5 0 0 100 200 300 Financially optimal stocking rate at $540/t 15 20 25 30 35 10 5 0 0 100 200 300 Maximum sustainable stocking rate at $750/t 15 20 25 30 35 10 5 0 0 100 200 300 Maintenance fertiliser applied (kg superphosphate/ha/yr) 5% chance of long-term losses at $1000/t 15 20 25 30 35 10 5 0 Environmentally unviable due to erosion risk Viable stocking & fertiliser rates Financially unviable due to low stocking rate 0 100 200 300
April May 2009
September November 2009