Lessons in Agriculture from the Land Down Under

Lessons in Agriculture from the Land Down Under

Each agent, producer, or UK extension professional learned about agriculture in Australia and will be able to apply this knowledge here in central Kentucky.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

In September 2013, 10 agriculture and natural resources county extension agents, six Kentucky producers, and four University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension personnel traveled to Australia to observe the country's agricultural practices, including several relevant to the horse industry.

The group began its journey on Sept. 7, flying through Sydney to Townsville, in the northern portion of Queensland. Here they toured the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientists at CSIRO are studying different feedstuffs' effects on the level of methane production in cattle. They are also evaluating new herd management technologies for use on low input grassland cattle production. The group also toured the Great Barrier Reef and discussed the impacts of agriculture and other human activities on this natural wonder.

Next, the team took a four-day driving tour from Brisbane to Sydney with a series of agricultural stops that covered topics important to several species of animal agriculture. Those stops included:

A bird's eye view of Coolmore Australia.

Photo Courtesy University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

  • Coolmore Stud, which has several farms around the world, including its Versailles, Ky., operation, Ashford Stud. Coolmore Australia uses improved, irrigated pastures of kikuyu, a common warm-season grass similar to Bermuda grass, alfalfa, and other grasses to provide year-round grazing on irrigated pastures for their horses. Horses stay out on pasture year-round and even foal in small paddocks rather than in stalls. Coolmore stands several stallions, including Encosta De Lago, Fastnet Rock, and 2011 Kentucky Derby contender Uncle Mo. Coolmore Stud is located in the Horse Capitol of Australia, Hunter Valley, New South Wales (NSW). Coolmore Australia also uses Angus cattle to graze pastures as a means of pasture management and to supplement farm income.
  • Manuka Chaff owner David Wallis produces several niche products for the horse market. These include hemp bedding, chopped alfalfa (chaff), and alfalfa haylage packaged in small plastic bags for horses. Feeding horses haylage is common in Europe and growing in Australia thanks to Wallis' efforts.
  • Ross Watson Agriculture, run by Ross Waston, an agronomist located in NSW. Because the extension function common in the United States is largely absent in Australia, Watson serves as a private consultant for several operations, including Rob Cooper, Manuka Chaff, and Coolmore Stud. Watson performs a similar service as UK’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program.
  • Rockvale North is a large merino sheep farm owned and operated by the McClenaghan family in Armidale, NSW. The McClenaghan family manages roughly 5,000 merino sheep on pasture year-round for fine wool production frequently used in Italian suits. The group was able to get up close with these animals to observe their fine coats as well as observe a large flock (3,500+) being moved to fresh pasture. The McClenaghans use native pastures and no irrigation to manage their flocks (using just three people) in the semi-arid climate. They also raise around 600 beef cattle each year.
  • Sundown Pastoral is a large-scale beef cattle farm. This farm finishes 80,000+ animals per year on improved pastures. Technology is the driving force behind this operation and includes automated working pens, complete herd tracking and management software, and precision pasture management.
  • Rob Cooper Dairy Farm is located on a small river in Manilla, NSW. Cooper uses center pivot irrigation to maintain improved pastures and 1,000 milking Holstein cows. Common species found in his pastures include tall fescue, white clover, alfalfa (called lucerne in Australia), and kikuyu.
  • Robb College Rural Focus Dinner Just hours after visiting the large sheep farm, the group was dressed in the best they had packed and were off to Robb College to attend its Rural Focus Dinner. Here the group interacted with current students of this agricultural college as well as professors and administration before a dinner and lecture on the economics and future of coal mining in Australia.

The group finally arrived in Sydney on Sept. 15, just in time for the 2013 International Grassland Congress (IGC) opening ceremonies. Over the next five days, the group attended the IGC and learned about agricultural research from across the world. UK extension personnel in attendance from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences included Ray Smith, PhD, Garry Lacefield, PhD, Tom Keene, and Krista (Cotton) Lea, all of whom presented their recent research at the congress. Todd Clark, a producer from Fayette County, was also featured in a prerecorded video discussing agriculture in Kentucky. After the conference each day, the group enjoyed sightseeing in Sydney, including the famous Sydney Opera House, the Taronga Zoon, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

This trip was an exciting and educational trip for all involved. Each agent, producer, or UK extension professional learned about agriculture in Australia and will be able to apply this knowledge here in central Kentucky.

Krista (Cotten) Lea is a graduate student in UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences

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