Q: How long have you owned your 20,000 ha property "Keen - Gea" Dennis?
Dennis: It`s been ooh ... about 25 years now. Jan & I went into debt and began the journey of trying to improve the property using our knowledge, some instincts and hard work to the point now where we have improved our native grass mixture to be able to run 4 times the number of cattle.
Q: That`s fairly impressive, so how did you make that first decision to do something different?
We found we could only barely run 1200 head of cattle. The recommended number for a living area is 3000 head. We were going broke but kept seeing how a small area of our timbered property which had been pulled by a previous owner, had responded with native grasses. Buying more land was completely out of the question so we took the plunge and started pulling timber which stirs up the soil, and makes a good seed bed for the grass seed which is already on the soil, but not always able to germinate for some reason. From then on we never looked back, the native grasses are virtually all we have and we now run 5000 head.
Q: Why did you not put out Buffel seed and stylos when you pulled the timber?
Dennis: We didn`t need to. It was an extra cost which was hard to find and we figured we could always add that to our grass mix later if we thought it would improve the landscape as a whole.
Q:So what sort of grass improvements have you got?
Dennis: We have been monitoring the Kilos per hectare dry matter for several years now and the average over the place today is about 3,500 kilos whereas originally it was less than 1000. Not only that but the range of grasses is quite good also and areas of scalded country are healing as well.
Q:Has your grazing management been a factor as well?
Dennis: Only slightly. We do move the stock around a bit but not to the degree we could to optimise grazing benefits and animal impact. We still have room to improve the ecosystem and production overall with planned/ pulse grazing and adding a few extra grasses into the biodiversity pool.
Q: Do you have problems with feral animals and weeds?
Dennis: Who doesn`t. The national park next door is managed very poorly and reinfests us with weeds like parkinsonia. Dingoes and feral pigs are always going to be a problem and even a wedge tailed eagle recently killed one of our week old calves.
Q:What is your reason for gaining organic accreditation?
Dennis: Since 1988 we found we could run the property without using any chemicals and licks and with the Wagyu cattle we produce, we believe our recent full organic accreditation will position us very favorably for some niche markets. The world is starting to realise that we need healthy land to produce healthy food for those people with allergies or wanting to prevent health problems, and being organic gives people the confidence to purchase our product.
Q:What is your view on the recent Queensland legislation which has put freehold land under the same requirements as leasehold land in relation to treepulling?
Dennis: Freehold landowners such as myself have lost our freehold rights. We purchased the trees when we paid for the freehold title and now they are gone. It`s white collar crime, but has anyone been notified? No they have not. Has anyone been paid back their freehold payments? no!. Therefore I believe we still have our freehold rights. When the government wishes to resume private land for powerlines, dams, or highways, the landowner is notified in writing of the governments wishes and a compensation figure is mentioned. In our case no such notification has been issued by the government. The Government wants us to accept the legislation and give away our rights for nothing. I don`t believe the government could prosecute you if you pulled timber on your freehold land without a permit. No one has been charged yet that I know of. The prosecutions so far are only for other technical reasons.
Q:If that is the case Dennis, Why hasn`t someone set up a test case?
Dennis:I still think it`s early days yet. The whole issue of managerial rights is going to the core of the farming community and we are taking our time to think all the technical details through. There are several court cases going on around the country on similar issues right now and in time I`m sure someone or a group of people will say okay let`s do it. It won`t involve endangered ecosystems, or anything to confuse the issue, but the question of freehold rights, of managerial rights, they alone have to be determined.
Q: What is your future then?
Dennis: I`m very disillusioned with the lack of Government support to give landholders certainty of property rights and a compensation process. For us the choice is clear. If there is no satisfactory resolution soon, the only option will be to move our business offshore to a country that wants us. Our intellectual property does not have to stay in Australia if the risks of unjust legislation and government processes sending a landholders business broke continues.