Queensland cattle producer Ray Vella brought home new approaches to managing livestock businesses from his Nuffield Scholarship study tour.
Ray's Nuffield scholarship helped him to undertake a multi-week tour of New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and North and South America to look at new ways to improve Australia's livestock industry.
His scholarship is to research beef cattle productivity in challenging environments.
Ray and his wife, Leah, run Brahman-cross cattle and a Brahman stud on their 7,200ha property, “Bald Hills” near Marlborough, Queensland.
The Nuffield scholar has already shattered some preconceptions.
“In Brazil, they couldn’t work out why I was so obsessed about genetics,” Ray said. “Brazilians reckon you need to get the pastures right first.”
He thinks it’s still a matter of balance. The Brazilian ranches he visited soil-test annually, not just to determine nutrient rates but to assess what nutrients cattle might be missing out on.
In Mexico, at the CIMMYT International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Ray got thinking a bit more when introduced to “greenseeker” technology.
Using a handheld device, the technology scans pastures to produce a readout on fertility indicators, like nutrient deficiencies and soil organic matter.
All this emphasis on pasture has made Ray realise how little he knows about pasture, and what might be gained from a stronger focus.
The trip has also given Ray a better appreciation of business management.
“In Australia, we’re great at producing beef, but we usually don’t know much about the business and marketing angles,” he said.
Increasing the diversity of beef markets for rangelands producers should be a priority, Ray thinks, which may mean improving producers’ understanding of what business opportunities are available.
His travels have also given him the impression the lack of youth in agriculture is a global problem, and one that needs to be resolved. Ray, himself, left school at 16.
He conveys the sense of privilege he has at having the learning opportunities provided by Nuffield.
“When I was first awarded the scholarship, I didn’t think I could do it,” he admitted.
“I’m getting used to the idea now. Because the selection committee saw something in me, I want to repay the favour.”
He’s already been away for nearly 10 weeks, and this is just the initial part of his Nuffield.
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