The Southern Rangelands Pastoral Alliance's (SRPA) commitment to embracing technological innovation is driving positive change in the Southern Rangelands pastoral industry.
So, it was no surprise to see almost 60 people gathered in Mt Magnet on October 12 for the 2023 Pastoral Industry Forum.
The Forum is an event organised by the Southern Rangelands Pastoral Alliance (SRPA) and themed 'Technology in the Southern Rangelands'.
Attendees included nearly 40 pastoralists, some of whom travelled from as far away as the Upper Gascoyne in the north, and Kalgoorlie in the south.
Other delegates included agricultural service industry representatives, consultants, government department staff and presenters.
The opening address was delivered by WA Agriculture and Food Minister Jackie Jarvis and, although she could only stay for a short time, her enthusiasm shone through.
The concept of virtual fencing is an exciting development.
It not only enhances the management of livestock, but also reduces the physical infrastructure required for traditional fencing.
First presenter, Ewan Crook, explained the VENCE virtual fencing livestock management system, complete with a mock display of the collar and a fence line and himself playing the part of the cow.
Virtual fencing is a flexible and cost-effective method to manage your cattle, and your country.
Unfortunately a hiccup in the Animal Welfare regulations currently limits the use of the VENCE system in anything other than trial projects in Western Australia.
However, we saw Ms Jarvis making copious notes during this presentation.
So, we are hopeful that she can push for amendment of the regulations soon to allow producer-uptake of this technology.
SRPA is at the forefront of technology adoption.
The integration of whole-of-property connectivity systems has revolutionised how some pastoralists monitor and manage their land.
These systems enable real-time data collection, allowing for more informed decision-making.
Drones have become invaluable for surveillance and monitoring of remote areas, providing insights from areas that were previously inaccessible.
Sonny Vitale, from Contour Consulting, gave an enlightening presentation on the development of a drone pasture-monitoring tool that is 'pastoralist friendly'.
The tool allows for repeatable monitoring of pasture condition, which can work together with other simple digital applications.
Demonstrating our adoption of communications technology, we were able to have four speakers join us remotely in Mt Magnet - Bill Mitchell, Adam Townley, Chris Wyhoon and Richard Marver.
Management of livestock in a pastoral system is vastly different to that of an intensive farming system, however, the Optiweigh 'in-paddock weigher' presents new monitoring and management options.
About 12 years ago, Mr Mitchell saw a prototype walk-over-weighing system being developed for sheep, and he subsequently developed the Optiweigh for cattle.
We are hopeful that some Optiweigh units can be deployed in the Southern Rangelands in the near future, as we are keen to assess their application in our extensive systems.
Mr Wyhoon, a beef producer from the Wheatbelt and also a member of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework's Consultative Committee, spoke about the developments, progress and opportunities around sustainability in the beef industry.
There is no doubt that adoption of technology is a major contributor to improving sustainability in our industry.
Carbon projects have been in existence across the Southern Rangelands for several years now, but there are changes afoot around the carbon industry.
Mr Townley, Australian Integrated Carbon, spoke about the Australian Carbon Credit Units Review and the Australian Government's commitment to the carbon industry.
The next topic was directly related to natural capital, but with a specific research goal.
Sam Godwin, scientist from Clemson University (USA), spoke about his research on lizard microbiomes to gain a better understanding of whether or not animal microbiomes converge (become similar to one another) when animals from different continents exhibit similar life histories - for example similar body form, dietary specialisation and/or predatory behaviours.
Dean Revell, Select Carbon, gave an engaging talk about the opportunity to manage and value the natural assets in the rangelands, including carbon in vegetation or soil, and other indicators of 'natural capital' including biodiversity.
He posed questions such as: who is interested in them, and why? Who might pay for them? How are they measured? What are the main factors to consider when evaluating whether an opportunity is actually a good fit for a pastoral business?
In the unenviable 'straight after lunch' time slot, Mr Revell kept the audience captivated with his presentation.
Richard Marver, Contour Consulting, explained how the Landscape Evaluation and Financial (LEAF) Planning provides a whole of landscape, triple bottom line plans that provide guidance and clarity for land managers to have confidence in the merit of their investments of time and money into their landscape.
Mr Marver, who has a growing number of clients in the Southern Rangelands, gave some great images of success stories around rehydration efforts in arid rangelands environments.
Dr Zoey Durmic, The University of WA, spoke about a research project that is utilising DNA analysis of dung to identify what plant species the cattle have been grazing.
The initial findings of this project are fascinating and we are hoping to see this project expanded across more Southern Rangelands properties in the near future.
Topics about government legislation are usually dry at best, but Karel Eringa from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, had the keen attention of the pastoralists in the room.
His presentation provided updates on legislative changes to the Land Administration Act, updates to Pastoral Lands Board policies, methodology changes for calculating pastoral rent and consultation opportunities for upcoming lease renewals.
Kari-Lee Falconer, project manager for the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's Southern Rangelands Revitalisation Project gave a complete summary of the project, from inception to current activities.
Nutrien Livestock agent Craig Walker provided a snapshot of the current market situation for the various categories of livestock.
While the livestock market is presently depressed, he said he was always able to point out where and why the prices were holding up better for some classes of livestock.
In addition to presenters, throughout the day AxisTech staff had a continual demonstration of the technology they have developed to assess natural capital on pastoral leases.
This project is a prototype of the automation technologies that will likely become widely used across the Southern Rangelands for the assessment of natural capital and biodiversity credits.
Such technologies are streamlining operations and environmental stewardship efforts.
Bronwyn Clarke, the chairwoman of the WA Livestock Research Council, rounded out the very long day with an interactive session that discussed ideas and opportunities for future research and extension activities.
Her question of "what technology are you most excited about for your industry?" elicited responses around virtual fencing, drone technology whole-of-station connectivity, real-time monitoring, remote landscape monitoring, livestock management (tagging, tracking, herd health, etc) and also monitoring and management of vermin and feral animals.
The transformation to date of the pastoral industry as a result of technological advances across the Southern Rangelands has been nothing short of remarkable.
For the early settlers who pioneered the pastoral industry, communication was a far cry from today's standards.
The journey from handwritten letters and party-line telephones to the cutting-edge technology that we now have at our fingertips has propelled the pastoral industry into a new era.
Forum feedback revealed that there is enormous interest in future developments of technology for the pastoral industry.
SRPA is well-positioned to lead the way in sustainable pastoral production and diversification.
The use of technology in monitoring, managing, and conserving the unique remote landscapes of the Southern Rangelands aligns perfectly with the organisation's objectives.
This tech-driven approach not only boosts efficiency and productivity but also contributes to the preservation and promotion of the natural environment which underpins our industry and our future.
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