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Beyond the Bale : Apr 07 - May 07
By Emma Leonard Fourth-generation fine-wool producer Maurice Collins says he applied to the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) because he wanted a challenge. Little did he know how much the program of physical and self- awareness activities and overseas travel and the range of people he would meet would challenge and reward him. Maurice describes his 20-month journey with 30 other participants as an "experience of a lifetime that taught him mateship, hardship and leadership". "The ARLP condensed a lifetime of experiences into a few months, and supported us as we worked through situations in our daily lives as individuals and as members of a team," Maurice says. For the past 30 years, Maurice has farmed 1100 hectares near Tungkillo, South Australia. He runs a self-replacing flock of 2500 Merino ewes producing 17 to 18-micron wool. In addition, about 1000 prime lambs are produced each year, sired by Poll Dorset rams. The majority of grazing on this undulating country with 500 to 550-millimetre rainfall is native pastures. This is supplemented by a small area of irrigated native and improved pasture, and purchased forage when required. Saline recharge has been a major influence on the quality of pasture, and over the past 10 years Maurice has revegetated more than 60 hectares. Despite a five per cent reduction in grazing area, livestock numbers have been maintained and wool quality improved. Maurice is passionate about improving the management of the farm's natural resources and is convinced that the reduction in saline recharge has resulted in more palatable and productive pastures. As chair of the local Landcare group, a representative on the SA Murray- Darling Ranges 2 River Sub-regional Group, and a member of the Producer Advisory Panel for SheepPlus, AWI's extension program that operates in South Australia, Maurice is able to share his experience and enthusiasm for natural resource management, as well as to lead by example. "One of the greatest things I learnt from the ARLP is that even though I am an owner-operator I don't have to do everything, I am not invincible; what I have to do is focus on what is most important to me and my business," Maurice says. During the course, he decided that improving the natural resource base of his farm by further revegetation and encouraging a greater diversity of native pasture species was an important personal and business goal. "The ARLP taught me to analyse and assess information, showed me my strengths and weaknesses and encouraged me to question everything," Maurice says. "It can be a confronting process, but the program and the other participants provide support." Every ARLP course is unique, because the individuals determine their own mission and vision as well as the topic the group will study. The mission statement of Maurice's group was 'prosperous communities through innovation' and their vision to be taken away from the course was 'a rural and regional Australia where we are all proud to live, work and play'. "It was no simple task for 31 people to agree on the wording and meaning of these statements," Maurice explains. "They evolved from much discussion over the 60 days we were together." For most of those 60 days the group worked in harmony but their first meeting was as teams. For two weeks in May 2005, they competed in challenges during a sur vival-skills course in the Kimberley. "An important thing I learnt there was to assume nothing when approaching any decision," he says. In the following months Maurice travelled to state capitals, where organisations including the Ford car company, the Australian Federal Police and the Salvation Army played a part in challenging the participants, exposing them Leading by learning Participating in the Australian Rural Leadership Program was the experience of a lifetime for South Australian wool producer Maurice Collins Targeting willing changers To identify those most willing to consider changing ewe-management practices, Lifetime Wool surveyed wool producers across southern Australia late in 2005. The results were used to develop and target a communication strategy, says Lifetime Wool's Gus Rose. "Our goal is for 3000 farmers to change their ewe- management practices by 2008. So, the survey was done to find out what wool producers were doing and whether they would be willing to change practices." Participants were asked about their Merino ewe management, including ewe condition, pasture assessment, feed budgeting and pregnancy scanning. "With help from experts in market research and adoption, Lifetime Wool has identified the type of producers we should target," Mr Rose says. "The target audience will be early adopters and pragmatic adopters that are more cautious about making change.That is about a quarter of all wool producers." The more pragmatic producers are a priority for Lifetime Wool. "These are wool producers who are willing to change but have not been involved in the project, and prefer a 'packaged product' with evidence of the economic benefit." Communicating ewe-management guidelines to producers will be consultants, government extension officers and sheep producer groups. Mr Rose says communication will emphasise information that the target audience knows less about. "For example, only 35 per cent of the target audience are aware that improved ewe condition during pregnancy will decrease the fibre diameter of progeny. Lifetime Wool is confident that the target audience is in a position to use the guidelines to increase their sheep profit." Choosing information that meets the target audience's needs is crucial to the program's success, he says. "Historically the adoption of pasture and livestock assessment skills in Australia has been low. By working with wool producers willing to change, we can find better ways to deliver these guidelines." In 2008, wool producers will be surveyed again. "We will know how much the sheep industry has adopted better ewe-management practices after the final survey," Mr Rose says. -- REBECCA THYER More information: www.lifetimewool.com.au develop for ultra-fine wool with low vegetable matter, high tensile strength and low mid-breaks, so that's what we're focusing our production on. Because our country responds very easily to autumn and summer rainfall, it's often difficult to manage tensile strength. We get flushes of green and the sheep eat it. So what we're doing this year is putting our one-year-old ewes in containment zones to manage their dietary intake. We're also running a trial: putting coats on a third of them, about 1200 sheep." Mr Craig says the coats -- worn from October to May as part of a three-year trial -- may help to control vegetable matter, yield and, potentially, tensile strength. "Some woolgrowers have been using coats for a few years. They will decrease vegetable matter and dust penetration and at the same time we can improve the staple strength, because it could potentially prove a better environment in which to grow wool. We don't really know, so that's why we're trialling it." The Craigs have set themselves a target to improve tensile strength within the next four years. Mr Craig says that overall, Lifetime Wool provides "the real fundamentals" of animal production and pasture use. "The program probably quantifies what good woolgrowers have always been doing. But because of today's higher stocking rates we have to be really on the ball to get it right. Using Lifetime Wool's principles in years like 2006-07 means we can have fewer mortalities and our stock can get through. And it's not just about the mortalities you have during a drought. It's about the ones we could get next winter. That's the real issue with managing a drought." All woolgrowers should undertake the principles set out by Lifetime Wool, he believes. "I think we'll see large mortalities coming out of the drought and people will say 'oh, it's been a hard year', but if you manage your stock, define your stocking rate and base nutritional needs on that, mortalities should not happen. It's your job to keep those animals alive. With mortalities over five per cent, I question whether they should be managing livestock." ú More information: www.lifetimewool.com.au; Lynley Anderson, email@example.com; Michael and Jane Craig, 03 5588 1395, firstname.lastname@example.org; Roger and Caroline Telfer, 08 9736 3068, email@example.com 8LIFETIME WOOL BEYOND THE BALE
Jun 07 - Jul 07
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement