Capitalising on rising demand for grass fed beef

GROWING BUSINESS: Steven Thompson, the silage man at work, at Upper Orara.
GROWING BUSINESS: Steven Thompson, the silage man at work, at Upper Orara. Rob Wright

STEPHEN Thompson has moved into making subtropical silage just as the demand for grass-fed beef is reaching critical mass.

The Pasturefed Cattle Assurance System launched late last year offers cattle producers the opportunity to gain higher prices for cattle that have been fed grass - pasture, hay and silage - all their lives.

Steve, a small-scale commercial beef producer based at Upper Orara, is turbo-charging the grass that grows so lushly during the subtropical summers by turning it into baled silage - "like turning cabbage into sauerkraut".

"Ensiling is an anaerobic process so the fermentation 'pickles' the grass and destroys seed heads," he said.

Steve and his wife Em bought their Upper Orara property, Big River, four years ago, moving north from Canberra.

Big River was previously well-known as the base for the late Phil Doyle's Orara Blacks stud operation, but the Thompsons have opted for commercial beef and organic farming.

Steve began making silage as part of the production system for their cattle "but people kept wanting us to make silage".

Wrapped bale silage has now taken over as the farm's major focus, with Steve first concentrating on growing more fodder on his farm, rapidly finding he repeatedly sells out all he has available, and then moving into contracting.

Steve works mainly in the Orara Valley and Bucca areas as far north as Grafton, areas close enough so he can guarantee being able to arrive close to a date that suits each farmer.

He is happy to advise people and is prepared to bale smaller areas yielding only 20 or 30 bales.

"It's a great way to make use of excess feed and conserve it for winter," he said

"It's also good mechanical weed control.

"Some weeds can have quite good feed value once ensiled - even young Parramatta grass has high protein and good feed value as silage - but you have a very short window of about one week."

Even low-quality material like bladey grass is finding a market as mulch for garlic and vegetable growers and home gardeners when cut and baled.

Before moving north, Steve, who has a Diploma in Horticulture, was working as a project manager with Greening Australia in Canberra.

He has also been a policeman, a paramedic and worked for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

Having worked for ABARES, Steve is well aware that the vast majority of farms remain viable only because of outside income.

Steve Thompson can be contacted on 0437 511 524.

Topics:  livestock