Bark and beef: Queensland finding good balance between tree and cattle production

Silvopasture opens a two-way solution to timber shortage.

Sat 11 Feb 23


The first cattle have been introduced to a forestry site near Cardwell in Far North Queensland in a research trial aiming to find the balance between cattle and tree production.

Rockhampton-based CQUniversity senior research officer Dr Thomas Williams said the clavipectoral trial was looking at increasing revenue for both cattle and timber industries while exploring ways of achieving the Australian red meat industry carbon neutral by 2030.

“Increasingly there is an opportunity for graziers and foresters to be working together in mutually beneficial ways,” Dr Williams said.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand for timber, prices have gone up and Australia is importing timber when we could be growing more locally.

“With Silvestre there is an opportunity for foresters to access more land and produce more timber. while from the cattle side we can start to meet industry pressures like CN30, and markets increasingly wanting carbon neutral beef while maintaining similar levels of production.

An opportunity for graziers and foresters to work together in mutually beneficial ways.

“We are storing carbon in trees produced for timber as well as beef.”

The term ‘Silvestre system,’ is the practice of integrating trees, forage, and the grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way.

Dr Williams said the research was focused on finding the perfect balance between well-fed high-quality cattle and tree production.

“Yes, there are some mutual benefits, but what are the trade-offs as well?” Dr Williams asked.

“We have gone into a commercial forestry and used that to thin out trees, to get an idea what a beef producer’s property with trees might look like. The reason we have done that is it’s hard to establish trees and get good results in a three-year project. We would have had to grow the trees first.

“So we have gone the opposite way with taking trees out to understand what does grass look like in a Silvestre system. We have data from overseas saying pasture alleys of around 10m and 20 m should see a net positive outcome, with sufficient grass growth for cattle while growing a tree crop and this study aims to demonstrate it in the Australian environment.”

With fencing erected and trees thinned, a herd of 50 Brahman cattle were introduced to 45 ha of plantation forests over three treatment paddocks with the number of cattle increased slowly to study when a balance is struck.

Cassowary Coast Region stud and commercial cattle graziers Peter and Mariah Chiesa of  Palm Creek Brahmans supplied the herd for the project after an approach by HQPlantations.

Currently leasing some forestry land to run cattle, Mr Chiesa said being involved in the trial just made sense.

“For me the more carbon in the soil, the healthier the soil is, which gives us healthier grass, healthier fatter cows and I get paid more from them,” he said.

“Personally. I believe working with everything we have got as an ecosystem, there is going to be better results all round for cattle, country and bank accounts.”

Mr Chiesa said the trial location is a bit difficult to muster compared to home as they are currently set stocked as opposed to home where they get rotated through paddocks.

“With the right holding paddock or water square it will get easier,” he said.

“At present we are trying to get a baseline on the three treatment paddocks.

“But a balanced ecosystem where everyone wins is why I’m keen to be involved.”

The three-year project involves monitoring the trees, pasture and cattle on the trial sites to model the production, economic and sustainability outcomes of various scenarios and the

potential benefits for landowners and concludes November 2024.

Key research partners include Timber Queensland, HQ Plantations, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, CQ University, and CO2 Australia.

The project is funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA).

(Queensland Country Life)

Related Articles