A successful balance of profitability and long-term sustainability for Queensland cattle operation

The Albeni Partnership is a large sheep and beef cattle operation with four properties located across nearly 90,000 hectares in central and western Queensland.

Graeme McDonald, along with his wife Susan and sons, Ben and his wife Kelly, and Samuel and his wife Jordan, have been farming this land for over 30 years and are constantly looking at new ways they can future proof the operation to ensure it remains productive and profitable.

“Profitability must be key when running a large farming operation, and for many operations this is difficult to continuously manage. For us to be profitable, it all comes down to how much moisture we can capture and store on farm. Water management is crucial to everything we do,” Graeme states.

“Our properties are in some of the most highly variable rainfall parts of the world, so having consistent access to water is always going to be an issue to be managed. We can’t ‘magic the water up’, so we need to work smart and do more with what falls from the sky,” Graeme believes.

Getting the most out of what you have

Graeme has established several sustainable farming practices to optimise water availability across his properties and this is being further enhanced by the next generation. 

After sowing and seeding multispecies pastures, Graeme trialled and implemented rotational grazing. This practice has improved carbon sequestered into the soil by reducing overgrazing thus maximising photosynthesis through the pasture. The large mob sizes create manure fertilisation while trampling the organic matter. Multi-species pastures were first sown three years ago which has significantly improved soil function. The cattle appear to love the variety particularly the introduced native forbs that previously didn’t have a chance.

The next step was to address soil compaction by a one-off mechanical intervention to improve moisture penetration, which was paired with plant management to ensure all soil is covered to minimise evaporation and erosion. The introduction of diverse pasture species with different root structures optimises drainage and reduces compaction.

Carrying capacity, measured by kg/ha/100ml rain, has more than doubled since Graeme started this program. This has lifted margins and increased financial resilience. 

A further initiative was to install solar panels on the properties to reduce costs. Graeme claims “this was a no-brainer financially, and the reliability of the power supply is also much better.”

Their latest venture is a soil carbon project, funded by a CommBank Agri Green Loan to cover the project establishment costs. The McDonalds are installing spreader banks, or small channels, off their in-paddock dams. These allow for greater water retention and dispersion after rainfall events, which enhances grass production and soil carbon sequestration. Higher soil carbon levels in turn increase the moisture holding capacity of soils.

While it’s still early days in the process, Graeme believes that it’s important that they continue to quantify the data they capture in the program. “We need to know what we don’t know, so we’re using the data captured from the soil to continually check and test we’re on the right track.” His next area of focus is improving his soil biology to further lift pasture production.

A small start is a great start

Graeme believes getting it right is not only important for his business, but for others who want to learn about carbon farming and sustainable practices as well.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s how I learn best in my own business - observing what others are doing, talking to colleagues, learning from industry bodies and reading up on what the latest practices are. We then give it a crack so that we (and others) can learn from mistakes, and successes. Taking that first, small step is so important in a venture like this.

"Sometimes it can be hard to get finance when you don’t have a ‘conventional farming operation like ours. Our low rainfall does not help either. Based on my explanation, many people wouldn’t back my ideas, but CommBank had my back.”

“Conventional farming isn’t what it used to be, and CommBank is always endeavouring to understand more about what the farm of the future is going to be, and how they can better support agribusinesses like mine.”

Want to learn more about how CommBank’s Agri Green Loan can help future proof your agribusiness? Visit www.commbank.com.au/agrigreenloan

Things you should know

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. It does not have regard to the financial situation or needs of any reader and must not be relied upon as financial product advice. As this information has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs, you should, before acting on this, consider the appropriateness to your circumstances.

Credit provided by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This product is only available to approved business customers and for business purposes only. Applications for finance are subject to the Bank’s eligibility and suitability criteria and normal credit approval processes. The Agri Green Loan may be subject to verification of the environmental improvement of which the funds are used for. Environmental project eligibility for the Agri Green Loan is assessed as part of the Bank’s eligibility criteria and normal credit approval processes. In order to qualify you must demonstrate the use of the loan proceeds towards an eligible purpose.

You should view our current Terms and Conditions for Business Finance and Electronic Banking and consider these before making any decisions about the Agri Green Loan. Full terms and conditions, interest rates and fees are included in the Loan Offer. For current interest rates and fees visit commbank.com.au/business-fees. Rates are subject to change. Bank fees and charges may apply. 

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