NEXUS project: exploring profitable, sustainable livestock businesses in an increasingly variable climate

Background

Changes in the climate of eastern Australia have occurred over the past two decades including increasing temperatures and heat waves, and declining rainfall in south eastern Australia, requiring a re-evaluation of livestock production systems. With funding from Meat & Livestock Australia's Donor Company, University of Melbourne, UTAS and CSIRO, the NEXUS project will run from March 2020 – June 2023. It is a multi-party program of collaboration across the Livestock Productivity Partnership, University of Melbourne, University of Southern Queensland and University of New England, exploring the connections between profitability, productivity, greenhouse gas mitigation, carbon sequestration and consumer perceptions of livestock businesses in an increasingly variable climate.

Project outline

Integrated assessments of seven farm case studies from Tasmania to north Queensland will be conducted to identify systems adaptations that are profitable, environmentally sustainable and targeted towards future market opportunities. A reference group in each region made up of local farmers and consultants will guide the research teams to ensure that the systems and adaptation options examined are relevant and findings are robust.
Adaptation options will explore:

  1. Feedbase (eg improved legumes, summer active pastures, or deep rooted forages),
  2. Animal management and genetics (eg altered management calendars),
  3. Business models (eg. enterprise mix (livestock:crop), alternative markets such as carbon),
  4. Technology and infrastructure (eg seasonal feedlot, virtual herding, seasonal forecasts), and
  5. Landscape management (eg. raising soil fertility, use of trees on-farm)

The schematic below provides an overview of the project structure.

The research team lead by Dr Brendan Cullen consists of farm system scientists, modellers, economists and social scientists:

Name and institution Role
Dr Brendan Cullen (UM) Project leader, farm systems modelling in Vic, NSW.
Professor Richard Eckard (UM) Leader Mitigation/Sequestration theme
Dr Alexandria Sinnett (UM) Leader Farm system economics
Professor Bill Malcom (UM) Farm system economics
Associate Professor Ruth Nettle (UM) Social research
Dr Marg Ayre (UM) Social research
Dr Paul Cheng (UM) Animal science, adaptation options
David Cobon (USQ) USQ Leader, Farm Systems Modelling
Dr Duc Anh Vo (USQ) Farm Systems Modelling
Dr Thong Nguyen (USQ) Farm Systems Modelling
In addition to the team above, three new roles for this project are being created at the Universty of Melbourne covering farm system modelling, farm economics and social research respectively.

Methods and Outcomes

NEXUS will employ an integrated assessment of farm case studies in regions from the North of Queensland to the Midlands of Tasmania to identify systems adaptations that are profitable, environmentally sustainable and targeted towards future market opportunities.

This component project run by the University of Melbourne will deliver 3 case studies in the following regions:

  1. Northern, New South Wales
  2. Northern, Victoria/Southern, New South Wales
  3. East Gippsland, Victoria

Each case study region will utilise a standardised protocol and be guided by a regional reference group to ensure that the systems and adaptation options examined are relevant and findings are robust. Adaption options investigated in each region will include investigation of feedbase, animal genetics, technology and management options, as well as options to capture value from emerging carbon markets. Combined, the case studies will inform future research and development investment in grazing systems with higher resilience to climate challenges across eastern Australia and will provide a series of farm systems that can be used to either demonstrate or research options to raise profitability in each region.

Protocols

Project partners will, in the initial stages, develop standardised protocols that will be utilised at each site to ensure that consistent approaches and topics across sites are investigated – although the specific topics tested will be adapted to suit regional conditions – and to ensure consistency of project reporting. Protocols will be developed for:

Stage one

During stage one, case study farms will be selected then investigated using current management under historical, 2030, and 2050 climate scenarios and using both incremental and variable approaches.

Stage two

Stage two will then investigate adaptation options which aim to improve profitability and resilience under future climate scenarios. Adaptation options explored will have consistent themes across the sites, but with site specificity.
Adaptation options investigated will include:

Regional reference groups

To support investigation of adaptation options the project teams will each draw on the input of a regional reference group. These groups of 6-8 farmers, advisors and researchers will be formed with advice from the relevant SALRC or NABRC committees. These groups will play a key role in ensuring that that the work is regionally relevant by informing the selection of case study farms, defining the adaptation options to be examined, testing modelling assumptions, and providing critical feedback on the project results. An iterative approach will be used incorporating cycles of feedback from the regional groups. Reference groups will include leading farmers and consultants in each region.

Transformational reference group

In order to consider wider longer term transformative level options the project team – in conjunction with other program partners - will in the early stages of the project develop an additional (single) reference group drawing on a range of expertise and skills from other industry areas or other industries. The task of this group will be to inform the development of R&D priorities that are longer term and higher risk but with a view to delivering transformational level change to the industry and its capacity to adapt to future climate scenarios.

Adaption recommendations

Identification of priority recommendations for RD&A investments across grazing systems in eastern Australia is a required outcome of each Nexus project. The research team will seek to develop a series of regional recommendations for beef and sheep grazing systems in each of the following categories:

Further information and related resources

For more information email Brendan Cullen or contact him by phone on +61 03 8344 8028.
Links to project output will be included here when available.