The other side of the fence

Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Owner, Dampier Downs Station.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

While this quote is most commonly attributed to Charles Darwin, it was actually coined by Leon Megginson, a Professor of Management and Marketing and Louisiana State University. Fascinating, I hear you sigh, but what does this have to do with running a cattle station in the Kimberley? Surprisingly, quite a lot.

While the original quote was paraphrasing Darwin’s work “Origin of the Species” it is equally relevant to an agricultural business. To survive – and thrive – businesses must adapt to the ever-changing environments in which they operate. This includes ecological factors such as seasons, droughts, floods, and bushfires; social issues such as greater consumer interest in how food and fibre are produced; and embracing new, innovative ways of achieving traditional outcomes. To be truly successful agricultural businesses, and the industry as a whole, must be willing to adapt and adopt new technologies, new ways of thinking and – most importantly – new ways of doing.

Which is why I am currently in Rockhampton, attending the Northern Beef Research Update Conference (NBRUC). This year’s conference, themed “It’s time to connect”, is focussing on connecting researchers with the wider beef industry. It’s an excellent opportunity to network with some of the brightest minds in agriculture and a great excuse to get in touch with my inner-nerd.

4-1-copyWhen science and technology meet beef production.

Sometimes, particularly in the height of the season, it is easy to have your horizon shrink to the immediate needs of the business. The days are such a constant whirl of mustering, drafting, processing, trucking, checking waters, fencing, and everything else that needs to be done, that you lose sight of the bigger picture. An event like NBRUC is the ideal excuse to step away from the constant day-to-day demands of running a cattle station and explore the possibilities and opportunities of the future.

Presentations covered a range of topics – from genetics, to animal welfare, to grazing strategies and new pasture species, to emerging technologies such as tracking cattle in remote areas, walk-over-weighing systems, and ‘digital homesteads’. Developing new vaccines, improving animal performance through targeted supplementation and achieving genetic gain through artificial insemination were all discussed.

4-2-copyA full house: Beef producers, researchers, extension professionals, and other industry players at the Conference. Photo: North Beef Research Update Conference Facebook page.

As a producer, it was a fascinating couple of days that highlighted how much potential there is to get even better at what we do. While we may not be able to implement all our ideas immediately, it is important to have this invaluable store of knowledge available to draw on when circumstances permit.

It is also important to recognise that there is so much more to this industry than just ‘chasing cows’. Universities, government departments, research organisations such as CSIRO, private consultants, vets, industry organisations such as the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association, economists, and marketing professionals are all an essential part of what we do.

Without this vast array of dedicated professionals, the industry would not be in the position it is today. I may be biased but I truly believe agriculture is an exciting place to be and the career opportunities are wide-ranging. Whether you’re a science geek, a grass-nerd, or a people-person who has a passion for working with small businesses to improve performance, there is a potential career in agriculture for you.

4-3-copyA discussion panel engages with the audience on the latest and greatest research findings. Photo: North Beef Research Update Conference Facebook page

Of course, any career will be greatly enhanced by a year or two spent in a stock camp. This crucial, hands-on experience at the start of your career will ensure there is a solid connection between the researchers and extension professionals of tomorrow and the producers with whom they’ll work. It’s an exciting future and there’s a role for everyone.

after-party-copyOf course, it’s not all hard work. Once the serious science is discussed it is time to kick up your heels and work on those social networks. This year’s “Hats and Chaps” themed after party provided plenty of entertainment and a chance to do exactly that.