Having seen the cost of freighting feed into northern NSW and Queensland skyrocket in recent weeks highlights the need for improved pastures for the subtropics.
Home grown feed and the percentage of it in the cow’s diet are key to reducing the farm costs of producing milk as it is normally the least costly feed source. Southern Australia is reliant on temperate species like perennial ryegrass which grows in abundance and is of quality in the spring. This then burns off as Australia’s dry Mediterranean-style summer arrives.
However, in Queensland and northern NSW, perennial temperate pasture is unsuited and dairying in the sub-tropics was successful only with perennial tropical grasses even though they lacked the high digestibility of the temperate species.
In recent decades temperate grass species have seen considerable research and development to find better species with considerable productivity gains. This work has assisted farmers in temperate regions to increase production while reducing costs.
Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, there has been little effort put into improving the three quality pastures most important to Queensland dairying namely the Kikuyu, Seteria, and Panic grass species. Many industry advisers encouraged Queensland farmers to take up the Mixed Ration systems they admired in Florida and California and so tropical pasture was ignored.
This has seen the cost of producing milk in northern Australia increase at a higher rate than the southern regions. Clearly, Queensland and northern NSW need more effort put into improving tropical species particularly the digestibility and feed quality. If the same effort was put into northern pasture research and development to levels seen for temperate species it would be reasonable to assume a 2pc improvement year on year. Compounding over the past 30 years we should have seen an 81pc improvement in those tropical species today. Such an improvement would be one of the game changers northern dairying critically needs. So it is vital that all sectors of the industry find funding and work together on tropical pasture to make up for the lost opportunity.