The North Australia Beef Research Council (NABRC) says vital research into phosphorus management in the 1990s is still paying off for the region’s beef producers.
Since it was established in 1993, NABRC has been instrumental in guiding research and development dollars towards phosphorus management, resulting in game-changing research that continues to translate into real production gains for northern Australia’s beef producers.
Jay Mohr-Bell, manager of Pancho Beef and Chair of NABRC’s Katherine Regional Beef Research Committee (RBRC) said the outcomes of phosphorus research projects have been invaluable to his business.
“We feed phosphorus all year round now. It’s an expensive commodity but at the same time, we’ve seen in our business that it changes our bottom line and improves fertility,” he said.
Phosphorus is an essential mineral for livestock production, and the management of phosphorus is critical for maintaining the health and productivity of cattle in northern Australia.
Phosphorus deficiency in cattle is caused by low phosphorus levels in pastures, in turn caused by low levels in the soil, with much of Northern Australia recognised as deficient.
With improved phosphorus management practices, producers are achieving higher growth rates, better reproductive performance, and improved herd health, resulting in increased profitability.
Mr Mohr-Bell said it had sparked dramatic changes over the last 30 years.
“Phosphorus has dramatically increased cattle fertility and growth rates in our region,” he said.
“I know producers who have invested $5 an animal and saw a $25 return on that investment.
“When you feed phosphorus you make your money back hand over fist.”
NABRC’s NW Qld RBRC chair Ian Braithwaite agreed it’s “probably a bit of a no-brainer” for Northern Australian producers to be feeding wet season phosphorus.
Veterinarian Geoff Niethe co-ordinated several phosphorus research projects for Meat & Livestock Australia over more than a decade and said NABRC played an important role in prioritising the issue.
“Reproductive projects are always high on the agenda for prioritising and phosphorus was seen as a way to improve fertility, but phosphorus itself was also on the priority list supported by NABRC when the latest round of P research was instigated,” he said.
Mr Niethe said part of his role also involved raising awareness of phosphorus supplementation practices amongst northern producers through various programs including MLA’s ‘P Challenge’.
“Where you’ve got acute phosphorus deficiency you’ll get a magnificent response – you could have fertility increasing quite spectacularly and huge increases in growth rates and liveweight gains in all classes of cattle over the growing season,” he said.
“But if you are going to spend thousands of dollars feeding phosphorus, you need to have certainty that you are phosphorus deficient.
“The big problem now is that we know a blood test is the best test by far to indicate phosphorus deficiency in the diet, but we are still not unified in that opinion and some producers are still regularly using less decisive indicators such as faecal tests or pasture or soil tests,” he said.
“Once the P status of a paddock has been established, there is no need to do repeat testing if an acute deficiency was diagnosed.”
Mr Niethe said he believes the absence of a crush side blood test is one of the biggest factors holding the industry back from capitalising even further on the phosphorous research investment to date as there are logistical problems in using the blood test in its current form.
“Those people that know they have a phosphorus deficiency and are feeding phosphorus are kicking goals, there is no doubt about that, they’ve really improved their productivity.”
NABRC, through consultation with its regional beef research committees, is instrumental in ensuring that research funding is directed towards addressing the most critical issues facing northern Australian beef producers.