Acland Pastoral Company conducts new cattle grazing trials

29 October 2013

The New Hope Group’s Acland Pastoral Company has started a new phase of scientific cattle grazing trials on rehabilitated mining land.

Acland Pastoral Company (APC) Manager Ben Muirhead said the independent trial was the second stage of a five-year project to compare the performance of cattle grazing on rehabilitated mined land with cattle grazing on land that had not been mined.

The trial will involve around 200 head of cattle at New Hope’s New Acland coal mine north-west of Oakey.

“Last year’s first stage of these cattle trials indicated that the weight gain of the cattle on the rehabilitated mining land was better than the cattle that grazed on the non-mined land,” Mr Muirhead said.

“It was also slightly above the expected benchmark performance for cattle grazing in this area of the southern Downs.

“This second stage of the project will be very important in identifying any improvements we can make in these trials and any other factors that may affect the performance of cattle on rehabilitated land.

“The project has been developed to determine the viability, safety and sustainability of beef production on rehabilitated land and will also investigate the structure of rehabilitated soils compared to unmined soils.

“We will look for key performance indicators including cattle weight gain, animal health and pasture quality before and after grazing.”

Tom Newsome from independent livestock consultancy Outcross said the cattle trial was a unique project compared to the usual mining industry approach to land rehabilitation.

“This project is focusing on rehabilitating the land so it can be used for viable and sustainable cattle production into the future,” he said.

“The pastures on the controlled site and the rehab site have been planted at exactly the same time with the same pasture mix and will be at the same stage of growth.

“We are sourcing all cattle in the trial from a single vendor, so they will all be the same age and genetics, so we’re making sure we’re eliminating any variations in order to focus on the only difference being the rehab land or non-mined land.

“New Hope will continue the trial over five years to investigate sustainability and performance over that time, so this is a valuable investment for the future.

“The difference to what we’re doing in this project, and what the mining industry has traditionally done, is that we are focusing on returning the land to a viable, commercial use – beef production.

“Traditionally the mining industry focuses on an environmental outcome and not a commercial outcome as well.”

It is also intended that the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) at the University of Southern Queensland will take part in the study with research linking key soil properties and pasture production with beef cattle production. 

“This assessment will be combined with plant productivity data to provide basic insight into land productivity,” Associate Professor Craig Baillie, Director of the NCEA, said. 

“The research is expected to provide better understanding of commercial beef cattle grazing pastures, both rehabilitated and unmined, in terms of soil health and pasture production.

“It will also identify indicators for long term sustainability based on soil chemistry and pasture root growth.”

Stage two of the cattle grazing trial began in September.

New Hope established the Acland Pastoral Company (APC) in 2006, as a farming, grazing and land management enterprise based at its New Acland mine.

APC oversees 10,000 hectares of land, including grazing 2,800 head of cattle, and managing 2,400 hectares of crops, with 400 hectares of winter crop. The business continues to investigate new crop types.