Cattle couple's skill recognised

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

Achieving a 5 per cent return on capital in their beef enterprise has led to Scott River graziers Barbara and John Dunnet being announced the inaugural WA Beef Producers of the Year for 2011.

The Dunnets were part of a group of 33 WA beef producers who submitted their farm financial data and physical production analyses for benchmarking through the Red Sky Agricultural program and came out with the top rate of return on capital, which is the leading profit-driving indicator of any farm business.

Red Sky Agricultural general manager Leanne Gifford said the WA benchmarking program was the first major beef industry analysis carried out on mainland Australia by the company, which started in New Zealand and was widely used by the dairy industry there.

She said the project had found the beef business profits of WA participants were strongly driven by costs per kilogram of meat produced, beef production per hectare and pasture harvested - in terms of energy going in and out of the system.

"These factors have the biggest influence on return on capital and determine if the business operator is getting the most out of what they are investing," she said.

"Assessing and benchmarking these areas of their business allows farmers to identify weaknesses and opportunities to improve the way they are doing things."

Ms Gifford said the Dunnets' return on capital at 5 per cent was well above the average of 0.3 per cent across all 33 beef businesses involved in the project and the average of 3.1 per cent for the top quarter of participants.

The producers with the next highest return on capital were the Norton family, of Redmond, and Andrew McNab, of Scott River. The top three were recognised at the WA Beef Council's Building WA Beef forum held in Mundijong last week.

The Dunnets run a core breeding herd of 550 Friesian-Angus and Friesian-Hereford cows mated to Murray Grey and Angus bulls for production of baby beef that is sold from November to January.

The family also buys and sells trade weight steers to fatten and turn-off year-round on 200 hectares of irrigated pastures.

The steers are bought in and fed on dryland pastures to reach live weights of 450-460kg and then run on irrigated pastures until reaching 520kg liveweight. They are then sold to a Meat Standards Australia accredited processor.

Ms Gifford said the stand-out feature of the Dunnets' business was the high level of meat produced per hectare, which was a function of stocking rate and meat produced per DSE, irrigation being not the only driver.

Mrs Dunnet said meat production on the property was boosted by agisting dairy heifers for six months from the end of spring to increase pasture utilisation.

"Being in a cooler climate is also in our favour because we have a longer season of pasture growth," she said.

"We are focusing on our fertiliser regimes to increase productivity and the Red Sky analysis showed we have higher than average nitrogen use, which helps to help achieve high pasture harvest figures.

"And we use higher than average levels of feed supplements/DSE to fill gaps in overall pasture and animal performance."

Mrs Dunnet said the family had been producing beef for many years and had found the Red Sky benchmarking process invaluable in highlighting how their bottom line profits were affected by management practices and identifying areas where improvements could be made.

"We will use this information to focus on and make better decisions about the major things we can do to grow our profits," she said.

The WA Beef Council has supported the Red Sky Agricultural benchmarking process and chairman Tony Hiscock said he hoped the WA Beef Producer of the Year award would become an annual event.

He said the Red Sky project was an initiative of the Producer's Round Table, which feeds ideas into the WA Beef Council, and aligned with a core council objective to encourage benchmarking of businesses right through the WA beef supply chain.

"WA beef producers are interested in benchmarking and analysing their businesses and making changes and this type of analysis gives them a real opportunity to do that," he said.

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