Study is sure to pay off

Central Queensland News - - RURAL WEEKLY - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

AS A 30 year old, and fourth-gen­er­a­tion gra­zier, sus­tain­abil­ity is front of mind for Colin Bur­nett.

The Queens­land cat­tle­man, who has been named a 2018 Nuffield Schol­ar­ship win­ner, will travel abroad in about seven weeks time to re­search a com­plex but per­son­ally vi­tal study topic: achiev­ing busi­ness sus­tain­abil­ity within chal­leng­ing cli­mates and evolv­ing mar­kets.

The Bur­nett fam­ily, which has been based in the Ju­lia Creek area for about 15 years, aims to pro­vide a top-qual­ity and con­sis­tent line of cat­tle, turn­ing over about 2000 head a year.

How­ever, the widely di­verse sea­sonal con­di­tions of north-west Queens­land can make that goal a chal­lenge.

“Our av­er­age rain­fall is about 19 inches per year. For the past four years or so it’s been about 12–14 inches ev­ery year... then we have a couple of years that can be 25–30 inches,” he said.

“His­tor­i­cally, the cy­cle is about four and four – so four years of good, and four years of bad.

“Right now we think we are com­ing up to the end of the bad years.

“Ob­vi­ously, th­ese con­di­tions im­pact our busi­ness greatly.”

Mr Bur­nett is based on Laura Downs, a prop­erty about 100km north of Ju­lia Creek.

The fam­ily has al­ready de­vel­oped strate­gies to be “proac­tive and re­ac­tive” to ad­verse weather con­di­tions.

“Con­ser­va­tive stock­ing is a big thing. You need to look af­ter the na­tive pas­tures. Ba­si­cally that’s the back­bone of your busi­ness,” Mr Bur­nett said.

“We are proac­tive and re­ac­tive, so for this wet sea­son if it doesn’t rain much by Fe­bru­ary, we start sell­ing cat­tle.”

While the fam­ily has de­vel­oped its own strate­gies, Mr Bur­nett be­lieves much can be learned from overseas cat­tle in­dus­tries.

On his Nuffield study tour he will visit cus­tomer and com­peti­tor na­tions in­clud­ing Ja­pan, China and New Zealand to ex­plore changes within red-meat con­sump­tion.

In South Amer­ica he will see the impacts of mod­erni­sa­tion and de­vel­op­ment and de­ter­mine its ca­pac­ity to sup­ply beef to the global mar­ket.

Mr Bur­nett is head­ing into his trip with an open mind, hop­ing to broaden his hori­zons with each place he vis­its, but he is par­tic­u­larly look­ing for­ward in trav­el­ling to the US.

“It’s the holy grail... there is a wealth of in­for­ma­tion over there,” he said.

“They seem to be a few years ahead of us. There is stuff they are do­ing over there that we could be do­ing here.”

Think­ing ahead to the fu­ture, Colin feels di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion will prove es­sen­tial – some­thing he feels north­ern Aus­tralia is primed to ac­com­mo­date.

“I think we need di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion across the mar­kets and also within the types of prod­ucts we pro­duce,” he said.

“That’s im­por­tant in terms of hedg­ing against mar­ket risk.

“So we aim to pro­duce an­i­mals that can go to a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent mar­kets.

“We are prob­a­bly lucky we have the abil­ity in the north. We have the abil­ity to value add through a feeder steer or with meat­works grade cat­tle.

“So our short-term plan is to keep our busi­ness hor­i­zon­tally in­te­grated in the beef pro­duc­tion chain but ex­pan­sion is es­sen­tial to its fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity.”

Mr Bur­nett’s Nuffield Schol­ar­ship was sup­ported by the Aus­tralian Agri­cul­tural Com­pany (AACo), ANZ and Con­sol­i­dated Pas­toral Com­pany (CPC).

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

WORLD TRIP: Colin Bur­nett is a 2018 Nuffield Schol­ar­ship win­ner based near Ju­lia Creek in cen­tral Queens­land. Mr Bur­nett will travel to sev­eral coun­tries to re­search sus­tain­abil­ity within the beef in­dus­try.

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