PRODUCER CASE STUDY
Andrew & Tali Brownlie
Story photos are courtesy of Fitzroy Basin Association
An ambitious goal set during Project Pioneer has seen the Brownlies take Andalia Pastoral from a simple breeding operation to a diversified and innovative business backgrounding cattle and selling grassfed beef direct to customers in Central Queensland.
To capture the bourgeoning demand for local beef, Andrew and Tali Brownlie grow out premium mixed breed heifers to 450kg across their agisted 1,300ha portion of ‘Lochmead’, on the outskirts of Emerald. These cattle are processed at a local abattoir and packed into convenient 28kg and 56kg boxes.
“We started the beef business mainly because we wanted to eat grassfed beef ourselves and couldn’t find it locally, so we knew there would be demand,” Tali said.
“Our customers are people who mostly live in towns, and they are drawn to our beef not just because it’s grassfed, but also because they know we’re local graziers producing beef under regenerative and sustainable practices.”
The current customer base for Andalia Pastoral’s branded range can be found in Emerald, Springsure, Blackwater, Clermont, Rockhampton and Yeppoon.
To spearhead this new venture, the family made the bold choice for Andrew to leave his off-farm job working in the mining-support industry. The couple said this was a step inspired by Project Pioneer and their subsequent involvement with RCS’ ExecutiveLink™ program, including creation of a peer-led board to provide producers with robust and objective strategic advice.
“It was during ExecutiveLink the board said I needed to set a date for when I was going to leave my off-farm job,” Andrew said.
“This was a huge goal we had been working towards for some time, so without knowing the future we set the date for 30 June 2021.
“The accountability put on us by the board was pivotal in how this next phase came about, and we took the leap of faith to start our beef business in May 2021 – so we beat the date we set during ExecutiveLink by two months.”
However, the bedrock of their beef business is, and will always be, their land. Despite enduring prolonged periods of drought their country has undergone immense environmental and pasture improvements through the regenerative grazing practices learnt and adopted through Project Pioneer.
Andrew and Tali, alongside their children Ella, Nixon Maclay and Sierra, run Andalia Pastoral across their portion of Lochmead, while the remaining 900 ha is farmed by Tali’s parents in a separate business.
Before starting Project Pioneer in 2017, the Brownlie’s operation consisted of 220 Droughtmaster-cross breeders, plus progeny, run across 16 paddocks and turned off as feeder steers and heifers.
Today there is a striking difference, with all cattle grazed in a rotational system across 58 paddocks which are connected by a strategic watering network.
Rotations are carefully monitored through the MaiaGrazing app, which Andrew said was vital in ensuring their paddocks are grazed at an appropriate level – ensuring maximum productivity while simultaneously protecting their pastures from overgrazing.
“The app helps us know how many stock days per hectare of feed is available in each paddock, and provides a snapshot of the whole operation,” Andrew said.
“It allows us to monitor grasses, know what the cattle have taken out of the paddock and forecast how many more stock days we’ve got left before we should start selling down to protect the land.
The graphs and planning tools on MaiaGrazing are great at forecasting what the season ahead will look like with the ability to look at as many scenarios as you wish.
” Andrew said the rotational system has allowed the Brownlies to build resilience into their land and business.
“What we have learnt is we can work with nature, or we can work against it,” Andrew said.
“It will always be more profitable, and create more resilience in the environment, if we work with this awesome ecosystem around us.”
Pasture quantity and quality
Ensuring the land has adequate rest combined with creating more paddocks to encourage cattle to make full use of the property, has paved the way for vast environmental improvements.
The property is made up of black soil, with some red sandy ridges, and has seen an increase in the pasture quantity and quality.
“We’ve got a mix of native and introduced species – there is some pretty heavy buffel country, right through to speargrass, Mitchell and blue grasses.
“During Project Pioneer, the more desirable grasses have increased and the undesirables have decreased, which in turn will improve the quality of the pasture and also the ground cover.
” Tali noted the increasing ground cover, which is vital to creating a healthy soil base and reducing sediment run-off to the Reef, had occurred despite the ongoing drought which started in 2018.
“We’ve been through the driest period my family has ever seen in the 70 years we’ve been here,” she said.
“My dad came out to have a look at the place during that time, and he commented there was more ground cover on our place than he had ever seen. So, we knew we were still positively influencing our country even though it was the driest season we have had.
“That was truly amazing. It’s incredible to think we have seen positive trends since starting Project Pioneer.”
A core focus of RCS training is human relationships within grazing businesses, and Andrew and Tali look back on Project Pioneer as having a positive impact on their family dynamics.
“Before Andrew left his off-farm job, our 11-year-old son said he thought we were burning the candle at three ends,” Tali said.
“Being able to focus purely on our cattle business has changed everything for us.”
Andrew agreed and said he’s enjoying spending more time with his children and driving the new beef venture.
“It feels like a huge relief, I’m still floating on cloud nine,” he said.
“We knew we couldn’t do our meat business while I still had my full-time job. Given the dry, we don’t yet have the backgrounding business humming along to a certain level where we fully replaced my wage, but we have complete faith in our decision.
On a personal level, the couple also credits their training to empowering them to pursue their passions, which for Andrew also includes a venture in the bee industry.
Alongside cattle, Andalia Pastoral is now selling going hives and honey, which aligns with their overarching goals of improving the natural ecosystem.
“There’s strong demand for going hives, and we know this is a step which is working to create more pollinators in our region,” he said.
“Bees are an incredible little critter and play a huge role in creating a healthy ecosystem.”
The bigger picture
While Lochmead is more that 300km from the coast, Andrew and Tali are ever-mindful their on-farm management has an impact on downstream ecology given the creek network across Lochmead runs into the Fitzroy River and, ultimately, the Great Barrier Reef.
“If you’re improving the ecology locally, it’s going to have an impact on surrounding areas,” Andrew said.
“By increasing ground cover and species of desirable grasses, there is less erosion meaning there is also less impact downstream.
“Our environment is so amazingly complex, but through this process I’ve been able to begin to see what impact we do have. I think that’s a good thing for other producers to look at and consider as well.”
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Project Pioneer is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The project is delivered by RCS with support from WWF, Maia Technology, Farm Map 4D and CQUniversity.