A Wagga-based hub is using tech to help livestock farmers combat drought through an innovative approach as a report endorsing the practice is released.
The Southern NSW Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub is using virtual reality to promote the benefits of containment feed lots for livestock farmers as it released a new report endorsing the practice this week.
Drought Hub director Cindy Cassidy said the headsets, offering viewers "simulated live tours" of some local containment feed lots were a standout of the CSU display at the Henty Field Days last week.
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Ms Cassidy explained that containment feed lots are confined areas on a farm with more shade and a water source where farmers move their cattle for a set period of time as a drought and erosion prevention measure.
"Farmers [feed them with hay and grain there] and will restrict them to that area [as a measure] to protect the grass and other ground cover [on their paddocks] so they don't lose soil through wind or rain erosion," she said.
She said the practice also has other benefits.
"It also means farmers can be more precise in your feeding of your livestock, because they are not spreading their feeding all over the paddock or missing opportunities to feed them," she said.
Ms Cassidy said in the last drought, farmers became quite aware of how valuable containment feed lots are to weather the dry years.
"With talk that drier conditions are coming, farmers are very interested in this [now]," Ms Cassidy said.
It comes as the Hub releases a report looking at critical farmer decision points for pasture protection going into drought which provides scientific proof that containment feed lots are a reliable strategy to combat drought.
"This report is designed to provide the data and information so that farmers can feel confident in the decisions they are making because it's backed up by robust scientific data," Ms Cassidy said.
It is now just days since the Bureau of Meteorology declared it is official that El Nino is on its way, a marked shift on the last three wet summers with back to back La Ninas.
La Nina brings wetter and cooler conditions to much of Australia, while El Nino often ushers in hotter and drier weather.
But despite the recent confirmation of an El Nino, Ms Cassidy said farmers have actually had plenty of warning with the bureau flagging the climactic shift since the start of the year.
"Our farmers will have been preparing since then," she said.
She also cautioned that just because it's an El Nino declaration, doesn't mean the region will go into drought.
"The bureau's announcement... still doesn't mean we're certain it will be a drought, but we are certain it's more likely to be hotter and drier [this summer]," she said.
In preparation for these conditions, Ms Cassidy said farmers will looking at their stock levels.
"They will also be looking at available feed and pasture, the supplementary feed they have on hand, such as hay and grain," she said.
Farmers will also be looking at "critical decisions" to be made at this point in time.
"They will be thinking if they're going to make decisions regarding de-stocking and whether to put sheep or cattle into containment feeding, whether to cut hay and whether to retain more harvested grain for stock feed," Ms Cassidy said.
She said farmers will also be considering this in the context of the current falling livestock prices and what the grain prices might do at harvest time.
"It's quite a complex set of decisions our farmers will be working through, and each farm business and system is different and unique, so they will be making decisions suitable for the conditions and situation that they are in," she said.
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