AS A 30 year old, and fourth-generation grazier, sustainability is front of mind for Colin Burnett.
The Queensland cattleman, who has been named a 2018 Nuffield Scholarship winner, will travel abroad in about seven weeks time to research a complex but personally vital study topic: achieving business sustainability within challenging climates and evolving markets.
The Burnett family, which has been based in the Julia Creek area for about 15 years, aims to provide a top-quality and consistent line of cattle, turning over about 2000 head a year.
However, the widely diverse seasonal conditions of north-west Queensland can make that goal a challenge.
"Our average rainfall is about 19 inches per year. For the past four years or so it's been about 12-14 inches every year... then we have a couple of years that can be 25-30 inches,” he said.
"Historically, the cycle is about four and four - so four years of good, and four years of bad.
"Right now we think we are coming up to the end of the bad years.
"Obviously, these conditions impact our business greatly.”
Mr Burnett is based on Laura Downs, a property about 100km north of Julia Creek.
The family has already developed strategies to be "proactive and reactive” to adverse weather conditions.
"Conservative stocking is a big thing. You need to look after the native pastures. Basically that's the backbone of your business,” Mr Burnett said.
"We are proactive and reactive, so for this wet season if it doesn't rain much by February, we start selling cattle.”
While the family has developed its own strategies, Mr Burnett believes much can be learned from overseas cattle industries.
On his Nuffield study tour he will visit customer and competitor nations including Japan, China and New Zealand to explore changes within red-meat consumption.
In South America he will see the impacts of modernisation and development and determine its capacity to supply beef to the global market.
Mr Burnett is heading into his trip with an open mind, hoping to broaden his horizons with each place he visits, but he is particularly looking forward in travelling to the US.
"It's the holy grail... there is a wealth of information over there,” he said.
"They seem to be a few years ahead of us. There is stuff they are doing over there that we could be doing here.”
Thinking ahead to the future, Colin feels diversification will prove essential - something he feels northern Australia is primed to accommodate.
"I think we need diversification across the markets and also within the types of products we produce,” he said.
"That's important in terms of hedging against market risk.
"So we aim to produce animals that can go to a variety of different markets.
"We are probably lucky we have the ability in the north. We have the ability to value add through a feeder steer or with meatworks grade cattle.
"So our short-term plan is to keep our business horizontally integrated in the beef production chain but expansion is essential to its future viability.”
Mr Burnett's Nuffield Scholarship was supported by the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), ANZ and Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC).
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