Successful expansion of the Australian lot feeding sector into the tropical north faces some hurdles, but challenges posed by high heat, humidity and rain can be overcome with robust planning, smart investment and the development of other, complementary agricultural industries.
That's according to a soon to be released research report by 2018 Nuffield Scholar Stewart Borg.
Mr Borg and his wife Sarah run Marklands, a 2400-hectare mixed cropping and beef enterprise near Mackay, Queensland.
As a third-generation beef producer, Mr Borg was motivated to undertake a Nuffield Scholarship to research the potential for the successful Australian feedlot industry to further expand into northern Australia.
With support from Meat & Livestock Australia, Mr Borg has been exploring both alternative feed sources and animal housing options that are better suited to northern conditions over the past 12 months.
"Although the tropical climate of Northern Australia poses challenges for lotfeeding, there are many opportunities on offer as well," Mr Borg said.
"Northern Australia is proximal to both emerging and existing markets, receives higher and more reliable rainfall and is close to large supplies of feeder weight cattle.
"There are also a range of feed sources, like soybeans, tropical grasses and palm kernel, which have lotfeeding potential."
While the lotfeeding sector currently relies on cereal grains like wheat and barley, Mr Borg travelled throughout the United States and South America looking at alternatives that would be better suited to northern Australia.
"Development of tropical pasture varieties has been rapidly progressing in recent years, and several hybrid grasses hold enormous potential for application in northern Australia, either through use as hay or silage," Mr Borg said.
"Mulato 2 is a brachiaria hybrid that produces exceptionally high dry matter yields and shows great feed values, making it highly suited to our tropical northern conditions.
"It is high protein, and more productive than tropical grasses currently available.
"Corn is king in the feed sector of the United States.
"Travelling through Texas, I saw it used in multiple ways, from silage, to dry rolled pellets, cracked corn and the very popular steam-flaked corn.
"Combined with soybean, it's no wonder it's the among the mostly widely grown crops in the world."
Mr Borg's research also focused on modifications to lotfeeding structures that would need to be made for the industry to succeed in northern Australia.
"Tropical climatic conditions in northern Australia require a feedlot system to protect against high rainfall, heat and humidity," he said.
"Heat stress in animals is a real risk to their wellbeing and productivity, but one that can be managed through a range of strategies.
"Building designs that feature raised ridge capping are utilised throughout Indonesia and South East Asia, either in full or partially enclosed systems.
"The peaked roof allows heat to rise and escape via openings on either side of the raised ridge caps, and overall efficiency can be boosted by ensuring that aspect and wind direction are taken into account before construction."
Ultimately, Mr Borg concludes that the Australian lotfeeding industry has huge potential to expand national herd size and capitalise on key market access by expanding into northern Australia.
"A northern feedlot industry, supported by better infrastructure and large-scale irrigation projects, is the key to mitigating the risks of drought and allowing producers to supply consistently high-quality beef," Mr Borg said.
"There is enormous potential for lotfeeding to expand into northern Australia, and if we can realise this potential in a well-considered way, we will ultimately be able to further capitalise on the natural advantages we already hold as a leading global suppliers of premium quality beef."
Be the first to hear from Stewart Borg and numerous other Nuffield Scholars as they unveil their research findings at the 2019 Nuffield National Conference.
The conference will be held at Brisbane's EKKA Precinct on September 18 and 19.