Livestock sector faces obstacles

Zach RelphCountryman
Murdoch University professor John Howieson at WAFarmers' livestock forum in Kellerberrin.
Camera IconMurdoch University professor John Howieson at WAFarmers' livestock forum in Kellerberrin. Credit: Zach Relph

Changing rainfall patterns and animal activists’ amplifying threats to farming will increase pressure on the State’s farmers in dry regions, an internationally recognised sustainable agriculture expert cautions.

In a flamboyant presentation at last Thursday’s WAFarmers livestock field day in Kellerberrin, Professor John Howieson issued a blunt warning for the livestock sector.

The Murdoch University research director for crops and plant sciences said changing rainfall systems, pro-animal rights lobbying and public opinion on farming were obstacles to overcome.

“There are a few challenges in livestock production this century, the first being changing rainfall patterns which affects crops and pastures,” Professor Howieson said.

“Perceptions in the community that animal farming based upon annual species is environmentally inefficient and increased scrutiny by activists groups about animal welfare are also challenges.

“I heard a report from the medical profession urging humans to eat less meat to preserve the planet.

“It really got me grumpy, because I don’t tell a medical professional to do their job.”

Professor Howieson is leading a study, dubbed phase two pastoral systems for WA, to establish permanent grazing systems in the State’s low rainfall regions.

It aims to develop the sustainable grazing system through self-regenerating plants to promote livestock growth.

He heralded pasture rejuvenation as critical for Wheatbelt-based livestock operations overcoming feed difficulties.

“To build the botanical potential for a permanent pastoral capacity in the Wheatbelt for profitable and sustainable production of animal protein, meat and wool is what we are driving towards,” he said.

“Key characteristics of what our vision is long term is a mix of annual and perennial plant forms, grasses, legumes, herbs and shrubs adapted to not only the low rainfall but also the different soil types.

“We are building the sorts of plants that will be resilient for a 20-plus-year phase.”

Professor Howieson said the research’s new program, starting this year, would focus on fine-textured soils.

“Our programs in the past have provided plants for course-textured soils,” he said.

“The finer-textured soils we didn’t touch much but now we are working on new annual legumes for finer-textured soils with low rainfalls.

“We will be putting out a range of new species that are suited to this region and these soils in this project. It also is looking at crop rotations with these plants.

“New and interesting plants will come onto the market because of this project.”

Professor Howieson was the first speaker to take the stand at the WAFarmers event, while CSIRO researcher Dr Rick Llewellyn and WA Livestock Research Council chairman Tim Watts also presented.

A panel session focusing on the live export issue was also held, with well-known Brookton sheep producer Murray Hall among the speakers.

University of WA professor Ross Kingwell and Australian Wool Innovation research general manager Jane Littlejohn also presented.

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