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Beyond the Bale : Oct 07 - Nov 07
By Kellie Penfold One of the factors behind good advice given by livestock advisers and farm consultants has been revealed -- the updated GrassGro® computer program. GrassGro® v3 was released recently by CSIRO, replacing the previous versions with a more user-friendly and flexible interface. GrassGro® simulates various scenarios for pasture growth and utilisation, and advisers use these to explain to graziers the impact of different management decisions on an operation's profitability. Developed by CSIRO, with financial support from AWI, as one of the GrazPlan® suite of decision-support tools, v3 has a new user interface and additional features, such as access to up-to-date weather records to help manage the impact of weather and plan for the season ahead. "Tools such as GrassGro® give producers the chance to explore innovative options and assess possible risks to their businesses," says Libby Salmon, CSIRO Plant Industry facilitator of decision support for grazing systems. NSW Department of Primary Industries technical specialist for grazing systems, Phil Graham, who is based at Yass, supports this, saying that GrassGro®, especially the new version, has become a valuable tool for helping clients with decision-making. He adds that many would not be aware such a program is relied upon by advisers to develop answers to complex on-farm scenarios. "The new version is more user-friendly and, as a result, an increased number of people will be able to use it," he says. "With previous versions, we had to provide inputs each time we wanted to use it, but now we can store key information, share it and build on it. If I wanted to build up a profile of soil types and climatic conditions for this region, I could do so easily and use that as the basis for other advisers in the area to work with, rather than them having to add that information for themselves. "Instead of looking at the impact of one decision at a time on the enterprise, we can now look at maybe 10 different aspects at once because, over time, we are finding that the questions asked by producers are becoming more and more complex and there is a lot of variability involved. "Producers no longer just want to know the average result per hectare. They want to know the range of potential outcomes, from the lowest to the highest, so they can understand the variability they could be exposed to. "Knowing the worst-case scenario can often help them with making the right decision." Phil Graham says GrassGro® in its previous form has given him a lot of confidence in giving advice and creating scenarios for producers, and already that has been built on with GrassGro® v3. GrassGro® v3 can be bought through Horizon Agriculture Pty Ltd and training is available through Libby Salmon. ú More information: www.grazplan.csiro.au; Libby Salmon, 02 6246 5417, firstname.lastname@example.org What makes the GrassGro? CSIRO's GrassGro® software allows producers to explore pasture options and assess the effects of different management decisions on their business 19 PASTURES BEYOND THE BALE Higher stocking rates may lead to faster recovery after drought A computer-modelling exercise using the new GrassGro® v3 program has illustrated how higher stocking rates do not necessarily mean financial setback during dry conditions and, in fact, lead to faster recovery. For the recent NSW Grasslands Society Conference, Libby Salmon, along with CSIRO colleague Dr John Donnelly, used the GrassGro® v3 program to model just how stocking rates and weather patterns might have affected woolgrowers in the Yass region from 1890 until 2006. Using daily weather data to simulate the variability in pasture and wool production, but with consistent prices and costs over the whole period, they generated a hypothetical cash flow for a 1000-hectare property.Then they compared the financial impact of running 12 head of fine-wool Merino wethers per hectare with running 15 per hectare. "The total amount of rainfall and mean winter and summer temperatures have increased to a small extent over the past 117 years," Libby says. "The simulation suggests these changes may have driven increases in pasture production and gross margins at this tablelands location, where production is typically limited by cold winters. "While financial losses were slightly greater at the higher stocking rate, the rate of financial recovery in good seasons was faster at 15 wethers per hectare than at 12 wethers/ha. Economic viability depends on an enterprise's ability to turn abundant grass in good years into profit. At low stocking rates this is not possible. "The savings in feed costs in dry years from low stocking rates are marginal compared with the gains that can be made in good years at a higher stocking rate." -- Libby Salmon Although it is important to recognise that climate change is an ongoing reality, Libby says that programs such as GrassGro® v3 will help producers manage the high degree of variability in pasture production from year to year. "This study, looking at long-term records, should not make us pessimistic about the future.The recent run of poor years has been experienced in the past and we should probably expect at least as much variability in future weather patterns.We need to recognise the extent of this variability and design robust and responsive grazing enterprises that improve the capacity of farm businesses to recover from bad seasons rather than focus solely on minimising debt. "The fact that historically producers have handled great variability in weather should be a source of optimism." "Producers no longer just want to know the average result per hectare.They want to know the range of potential outcomes, from the lowest to the highest, so they can understand the variability they could be exposed to." -- Phil Graham
Aug 07 - Sep 07 Supplement
Dec - Jan 08