Sunday 4 November 2012

Live export uncertainty complicates gamba management

Gamba grass fire on Camp Creek station in October (Bushfires NT)

Bushfires NT start backburn (S Whatley)

How 220 head/ha can reduce fuel load in four hours (J Blake)
Camp Creek Station recently had a massive gamba grass fire which showed up on the BOM radar. Owner Jeff Blake told us what happened and how he normally manages gamba grass:

“This year we had planned to receive a large delivery of cattle but with the uncertainty of the live export trade the delivery kept getting delayed, and when it was finally cancelled it was too late to burn the fuel safely. We were planning to burn it after some more rain but somebody beat us to it.

“Gamba grass was here when we brought the property. It is a great grass if it is well managed and a nightmare if unmanaged.

“We trialled different grazing strategies at Camp Creek and found that by intensely grazing the paddocks for a short period (1 day worked the best) and then resting the paddock for approximately 45 days in the wet and 90 days in the dry, we could keep the Gamba at a manageable and usable height. It also reduced the noxious weeds and promoted a lot of native plants by opening up the gamba grass. This approach was very good for weight gain on our cattle.

“Set stocking and continuous grazing promoted noxious weeds and erosion and killed off a lot of the native plants. This affected weight gain and left larger Gamba plants which were still a fire hazard.

“The Northern cattle industry is between a rock and a hard place at the moment. To set up a property and manage the land sustainably we need market confidence and a lot of capital investment in people, education, and infrastructure. 

“As soon as confidence returns to the cattle industry we plan to restock the property with the appropriate amount of cattle to utilise and manage Gamba.

“For the time being we will plan an early dry season burn next year, but I am afraid that if burning continues for too long we will only have fire resistant plants that would not be able to support cattle or wildlife.

“Without an income off the land, how can we or any other property owner afford to manage the fire breaks?”

Gamba grass is declared under the Weeds Management Act. The management plan allows landholders within the “management” zone (generally west of Kakadu and north of Katherine and Daly Rivers, but see link below) to continue to use gamba grass as a pasture species. However, they cannot import seed and must endeavour to contain spread within or from the property. Outside of this zone gamba grass must be eradicated.

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