CQ Grazier battling drought resorts to clever measures
AS GRAZIER Mick Alexander drives his dusty silver Hilux down the hill to feed his cattle, a red Landcruiser approaches from ahead.
Both cars stop window to window and Estelle Richards, Mick's neighbour, winds her window down.
The pair's discussion loops through a range of affairs but soon circles back to the state of the land, comparing recent, albeit very low, rainfall totals.
"We're feeling pretty low," Mrs Richards said.
"But we'll just keep on keeping on."
Ask the pair whether they ever consider closing up shop, given the dire consequences they face, and their responses are strangely, staunchly similar.
Both say they've never given it a thought.
"We just have to find other ways of doing it better," Mick said.
The dry spells are getting longer, summers are getting hotter, and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent according to the Central Queensland organic beef producer, who owns and operates a cattle property in Garnant, north of Rockhampton.
He faces between seven and eight months a year of little to no rain, making it increasingly difficult to manage his 3600-acre property.
"It's changing. We have had five major floods in 10 years, prior to that it was one every 20 years," he said.
"The increase of weather extremes has been pretty horrific out here.
"You multiply all these things out and it's easy to see ... it's not how it used to be."
Mick said people often tell him that the region has always had floods, drought, cyclones, and bushfires, but he is adamant the intensity and frequency has increased.
He considers himself a regenerative farmer and has resorted to a raft of innovative farming methods in order to keep his operations going through the recent extremes.
Some such measures include increasing shade for his cattle, constructing 10km of contours to hold and spread water, planting multi-species cover crops and daily rotations of cows between paddocks to keep a "feed budget" of constant fresh grass available.
The key to the future is building soil carbon to hold water in his paddocks and restoring the hydrology on his farm.
And his methods appear to work, evident by his paddocks boasting knee-high grass with healthy-looking cows.
Regardless, he maintains life on the land is tough and he believes Central Queensland farmers are on the front line of climate change and its effects on the environment.
"Central Queensland is in the firing line for extreme conditions coming, so we're going to feel it before anyone else does, and the farming community will feel it before the towns do," he said.
He feared if trends continued, grazing would no longer become profitable for many.
"We will just have to get tighter and tighter for it to stay profitable, and we will have to look to do other things," he said.
"But it all comes back to water."
As a result of the recent drought, Mick has been forced to cut his herd down to a third - meaning a third of the income to run his operation.
He said some farmers in the area had no stock at all left on their properties.
"People are just trying to get by," he said.
Mick actively promotes his style of farming through various avenues including a program he started called Grazing Best Practice which focuses on vegetation regeneration methods and priming the land to make the most of rainfall.
"We don't think about sustainability any more because that means you want to keep it the same, and we need to regenerate our farms" he said.
"We as a community have already degraded our country into poor condition."
He felt there was a lack of understanding and focus of the farming from authorities and stated many regional representatives were more focused on mining.
"This is the beef capital, we are in Central Queensland the home of beef, so they should have more communication with the farmers and the farming community than they do," Mick said.