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Beyond the Bale : Dec 06 - Jan 07
By Jane Milburn It takes an effort to master computers but, once learned, central west ueensland producer John Beattie says using programs such as StockPlan® to test multiple 'what if ' scenarios becomes a leisure activity rather than work. Mr Beattie, who runs a Merino flock at 'Arno', Isisford, took a close look at the StockPlan® decision-support tools in 2001 as conditions became tight. "The most important thing about going into a bad period is to have a plan for coming out the other end rather than stagnating and getting depressed," he says. "StockPlan® has helped me change my thinking to view drought as an opportunity to plan what might be, to think positively, and that's made a huge difference." Prior to using this computer-based decision-making tool, Mr Beattie did his drought planning with a calculator, pencil and paper. "It is so easy to make a mistake when calculating by hand, whereas you can rely on computer-based calculations when you know how those calculations were put in place and what they have taken into account." Mr Beattie has used two StockPlan® tools: Drought Pack, which assesses the cost of feeding and determines the break-even price for specific classes of animals, and Im Pack, which assesses the structure of the flock over a 10-year period. "Drought Pack helps address immediate problems," he says. "If you've decided to feed, you can work out how much feed is needed and what it will cost for a season. It also provides the ability to consider sheep nutrition and sheep behaviour relevant to productivity." This year, 'Arno' had 144 millimetres of rain which kept stock going over winter, but Mr Beattie expects to be feeding from September to December. He says Im Pack allows 10-year calculations on how his breeding flock will be affected by decisions and can project over a 10-year period what would happen under various scenarios -- "for example, what if we keep going with a wool operation?" For the moment, Im Pack has persuaded him that he is better off moving to sheep breeding rather than wool growing. "Our program now is to offload young stock earlier rather than hanging on to them for two to three years, as you would with a wether operation that was part of a wool growing business. "We will keep a sustainable number of nucleus breeders regardless of the season, and get rid of our young stock straight away." John says the seasonal situation in his region also led him to consider another option: the need to supplementary-feed for several months every year whether the property is in drought or not. "We only have adequate nutrition for six to eight months, which means there are four months when our stock don't have adequate nutrition unless they are fed," he says. "We've calculated that we can put $5 to $6 worth of feed into our sheep each year without impacting on our returns, because the feed is paid for by increased production." Each year, Mr Beattie runs a four-way test of 'review, plan, check, do' to see how his operation has gone in the past year and identify where it needs to go according to the current market. "We think about what our country will do best, what is sustainable based on historical and current weather patterns, and make a decision from there. Then we review the process and that's where StockPlan® comes in, because it is easy to run the economic 'what ifs' based on available options." He is now also using Woolcheque, the AWI- backed program that helps producers assess wool- Software removes guesswork from 'what if ' scenarios StockPlan®, a set of decision-support tools, has helped Queensland producer John Beattie "think positively" in the face of drought selling options and keep track of trends. "I can have a file with my wool specs in it and update the file with the day's market prices, press a button and it will identify where those prices are relative to 12 months' trading. You can't get any better than that." At a Leading Sheep Drought Tools and Options Day held at 'Woolerina', Bollon, earlier this year, a range of farm management tools were introduced by ueensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries extension officer Tony Hamilton. Mr Hamilton explained the benefits of utilising a range of tools available for planning major long-term decisions during drought periods, rather than using only short-term options. These tools provide a holistic approach to minimise guesswork and identify high-risk options. Feedback at the workshop showed a high level of interest in StockPlan® because of the ability of the software to provide a wide range of options. ú More information: www.wool.com.au/drought StockPlan® can help woolgrowers develop a strategy for drought feeding of sheep. 5 CLIMATE BEYOND THE BALE StockPlan® A computer program and workshop is helping woolgrowers across Australia manage the production, social and environmental impacts of drought. StockPlan® is a decision-support tool that allows woolgrowers to explore drought-management options, by helping answer questions on the costs of feeding stock, the affect of drought on the flock and farm finances this year and in the future, and the best ways to plan a recovery post-drought. The information helps: ú improve drought-management skills; ú lower the risk of degrading pastures; ú lower the risk of financial losses; ú encourage forward planning; and ú investigate the production and financial implications on the farm business. More than 700 people in NSW,Victoria and Queensland have taken part in StockPlan® workshops since 2000. By entering data on flock composition, feed types, climatic conditions and prices, growers can get a range of management options and pick the best one for their enterprise. Developed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) five years ago, StockPlan® has been expanded and now includes three decision tools rolled into one package. Drought Pack assesses the cost of feeding and determines the break- even price for animal classes.The FSA Pack is designed to help producers decide whether to feed, sell or agist stock.The Im Pack is a decision tool that gives producers the opportunity to assess the structure of their flock over a 10-year period, allowing them to explore a range of options. Ian Rogan, AWI's general manager wool production, says the philosophy behind StockPlan® is to encourage drought- preparedness. "To avoid financial and environmental losses it's important producers have the right tools available," Mr Rogan says. "There are trained StockPlan® facilitators in most states who can work with producers to identify the best drought- management plan." StockPlan® lets producers examine a range of options and management strategies without taking financial risks. ú More information: www.wool.com.au/drought; Mary Goodacre, AWI project manager sustainable production systems, 0409 816 630
Feb 07 - Mar 07