Australian producers learn from US operations
August 16, 2018
A group of 22 Australians, known as the "Aussie graziers" flew out of Sydney on July 23 and arrived in Dallas, Texas to begin their agricultural tour of the United States. The "Aussie graziers" are a group of students from the KLR Marketing class who wanted to take their learning a little bit further. They have been doing a bit more than the average KLR student to receive more coaching, mentoring, and networking. There are students from small farms and outback cattle stations, as well as sheep producers. The youngest member of the group is 19 while the oldest is in their late 60s.
The group is led and taught by Grahame Rees. In 1999, Rees had the opportunity to meet Bud Williams when Williams traveled to Australia. Williams is greatly known for his stockmanship schools.
"When I met him, he really changed my life," said Rees.
When Rees had the opportunity to travel to Spokane, Washington in 2003 with friends Rod Knight and Jim Lindsay, to attend a marketing school put on by Williams, they knew this was something they needed to bring back to Australia.
With Williams help the three men created the KLR (Knight, Lindsay, and Rees) Marketing School. The KLR Marketing School is an intense two and half day course that provides principles for marketing to producers in Australia.
The "Aussie graziers" are a group of students who graduated from the KLR Marketing School. As a way to expand their knowledge and provide them the opportunity to share what they've learned Rees organized an agricultural tour in the United States.
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"There are a lot of skills within this group," says Rees. "We aren't just coming to learn but to share as well."
The group began their journey in Dallas, Texas, travelled to Springfield, Missouri, then went across Kansas to Colorado and stopped in Wheatland, Wyoming, for three days. They then travelled up to Billings, Helena, and Dillon, Montana, and finally ended their trip in Jackson, Wyoming on August 14.
"We are looking at regenerative agriculture, we are looking at profitable agriculture, we are looking to meet people who we can share our ideas with," explained Rees.
As the group went they stopped at several agricultural operations along the way. They were able to take a look at cover crops in Kansas, view Kit Pharo's stud operation in Colorado, hike Pike National Forest, visit the Platte County fair in Wyoming, visit the Simms Family ranch, spend time at the Padlock ranch, the S ranch in Montana owned by the Scott family, and many more operations.
On their final day, each individual shared what this trip meant to them and they provided a summary of some of the things they learned. One of the main ideas that really resonated with the members of the group had to deal with the importance of people.
"Businesses are set up for succession, so that all are involved, from all generations," explained Will Comiskey, a member of the Aussie graziers. "People are worth more than a paycheck. And with people we must be enjoyable, profitable, and sustainable. Find staff that you can manage, enjoy yourself, and attitude is everything."
Comiskey runs a cattle-trading operation in Goondiwindi Queensland. He wanted to take the KLR Marketing course to help better understand cattle trading and how to make a profit off of livestock. The timing of the trip worked out really well for Comiskey and he thought it would be a great way to see new ideas and potentially use them in his own business.
"I didn't have a lot of expectations going into the trip," said Comiskey. "But I knew we would be seeing a lot of good people."
One of the things that surprised Comiskey is when they visited a sale barn. In Australia the people walk to the cattle so it was surprising to see sale barns here in which the cattle came to the people. Comiskey was also impressed to see that producers here were able to grow so much more than in Australia even with similar rainfall.
"That gives me something to aim for when I go home," said Comiskey. "Is to have more production from less and trying to go about that holistically."
Rees explained that for himself, there were two really great aspects of the trip. The first was spending 21 days with 20 other livestock producers from Australia and that alone was a great opportunity. He said they had over 5,000 hours of conversation and the relationships that were built among the group were priceless.
Second, Rees was amazed and thankful as to how welcoming everyone was toward the group. As a group of ranchers themselves, they were glad to share meaningful conversations with the producers they met and to develop deeper questions.
"We walked into peoples' lives and they welcomed 22 strangers," explained Rees.
Among the members of the group was the Wearing family. The Wearings run 75,000 acres of land and they are in their 6th year of drought. In what they consider a normal season they can run 3,000 cattle on their land but with planned grazing and feed budgeting they are running just under 1,000 this year. Understanding risk management, carrying capacity, stocking rate, and stockhandling skills have greatly helped them this last year as they dealt with drought.
"Even on the other hemisphere the principles are still the same," explained Geoff Wearing.
Rees shared that each member of the group was affected by their visit in very personal ways. He explained that some of the members of the group might be taking back ideas related to a broader business standpoint and some are taking back the passion to share more with others.
"I think for profitable regenerative agriculture to go to the next level we need to network a whole lot more to find out what's happing outside our own circle," explained Rees. "I think it's the opportunity, a huge opportunity. There are so many knowledgeable people out there."
Within the next year, they hope to bring the KLR Marketing School over to the United States.
"Basically we want to bring it home," said Rees. "We took it away and worked on it with 15 years of teaching in Australia and we want to bring it back to the US ranchers where it kind of came from."