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Grain & Graze

Grain & Graze logo.

Around 40,000 farmers manage mixed livestock and cropping enterprises in the sheep/wheat zone. Mixed farming enterprises with more livestock are less likely to incur serious losses in dry seasons, while those skewed toward cropping can make bigger profits in bumper years. These are likely to be significant factors in a more variable climate.

AWI supported the research and extension program, Grain & Graze to explore combinations of livestock, pastures and crops that increase profitability and improve the natural resource base in the sheep/wheat zone.

Grain & Graze developed projects in nine regions across Australia in consultation with regional producer groups, regional catchment organizations and state agencies.

Region Project
Avon (south-west WA) Perennial lucerne pastures; extended pasture phases and strategic farm management.
Border Rivers (southern Queensland and northern NSW) Short or long term pasture phases in a cropping system in profitable, environmental and social terms.
Central West/Lachlan (central NSW) Pasture cropping/alley farming with saltbush/feed profiles and production options to address feed gaps.
 Corangamite/Glenelg-Hopkins (south-west Victoria) Stubble management using livestock to reduce residual dry matter; lucerne as a break crop and cereals into lucerne on raised beds to address a winter feed gap.  Native grasses in rotation with improved pastures to address catchment targets.
Eyre Peninsula (south-central SA) Farmer consultation to determine the barriers to optimising a mixed farming system.  The impact of range of farming systems on the environmental, profit and social aspects of mixed farms. How livestock can fit into cropping systems to increase whole farm profitability.
Mallee (south-west NSW, south-east SA, north-west Victoria) Annual and perennial pastures to increase pasture and livestock productivity, and subsequent crop yields.
Murrumbidgee (southern NSW) Addressing whole farm feed supply using grazing cereals to protect the resource base and increase species diversity.
Northern Agricultural Region (south-central WA) Integrating perennial pastures into cropping systems.  Best-bet grazing management for perennial pastures that protect natural resources.
Maranoa Balonne (southern Queensland) Matching land use to land capability. Improved management of pasture and fodder crop phases.  Better integration of crop and livestock enterprises.

The nine regional projects were supported by national projects:

  • Social research into the trade-offs influencing mixed farming decisions.
  • Economics: the relationship between enterprise mix and the resilience of farming businesses
  • Feedbase: whole farm feed distribution and utilisation to reduce risk and maximise the sustainability of mixed farming systems.

Mixed farming is complex. Grain & Graze identified universal principles to help break decision-making down into less complex parts:

  • A profitable mix of enterprises - land is farmed to its capability and crop:livestock ratios are adjusted according to shifts in their relative profitability.
  • Maximum yields and productivity - focus on production drivers like highly efficient water use, healthy soils (high soil organic carbon, nutrient budgets) and matching lambing and calving to feed availability.
  • Lower costs of production - low cost management solutions like nitrogen from legumes, crop rotations and grazing to control weeds and soil-borne diseases, integrated pest management to reduce pesticide use.
  • Low relative overheads - leasing, contract labour and services, and economies of scale can reduce overhead costs.
  • Increased sale prices - marketing and timing of sales can optimize sale prices.
  • Managed risks - spread production risks from drought over different seasons via different commodities; have a drought response plan; use perennial plants to reduce recharge, maintain ground cover, prevent erosion and shelter stock.
  • Timelines - do the right thing at the right time by planning critical activities in advance and setting dates for making decisions.
  • Enjoyment - accept that mixed farming is complex and acknowledge your achievements in production and environmental care.

Grain & Graze developed new, whole-farm knowledge, tools and capacity for mixed farmers to identify what combination of livestock, pastures and crops will increase profitability and improve the natural resource base on which they farm.  The project concluded in December 2008.

Grain & Graze was a collaborative project between AWI, Meat & Livestock Australia, Land and Water Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Further Information

Managing Complex Systems - the findings from Grain & Graze are available in the June 2008 report Managing Complex Systems (PDF 6.5Mb).

Grain & Graze website - view or download all the Grain & Graze program findings at: www.grainandgraze2.com.au