No one would ever accuse King Island cattle producers Ana Pimenta and Tom Perry of lacking ambition.
In 2009, with no family farm to fall back on, the couple – both of whom have agricultural science degrees and had worked in agriculture – decided to become cattle producers. Through leasing, off-farm jobs and backing from the bank, they have built a business that supports their family of four. They now own 810ha of land and, at times, just over 2,000 head of predominantly Angus cattle.
"People did say it couldn't be done but we had a clear business plan and we did lots of analysis and research along the way into how to run a profitable beef herd and we took the risks," Ana said.
"It was a steep learning curve, but we are proof you can be a first-generation farmer."
Ana and Tom are now thinking bigger and applying their skills to preparing their enterprise to meet future consumer demands.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if King Island was 100% carbon neutral? Imagine the possibilities for the marketing of our produce and for tourism. I think it could be done," Ana said.
As well as working in the day-to-day cattle operations, Ana runs a farm tour business called Meat Your Beef, showing visitors to King Island how beef is produced.
Ana has a background in natural resource management and in 2020, in preparation for developing their own carbon management plan, the couple participated in the MLA pilot carbon accounting training.
"I wanted to learn what we have to focus on and which way to head to become carbon neutral," she said.
"Doing the calculations made me realise it might not be as hard as I thought to be carbon neutral and we really are not that far away from carbon neutrality."
Ana and Tom have identified their challenges and opportunities in the carbon neutrality journey as:
- Soil: King Island's soils are already high in carbon at 3–5%. Ana says they are going to have to do some more research into how they can increase the carbon levels but they are not sure they can double them.
- Turn-off times: The couple's cattle average 2kg/day weight gain during end of winter/spring seasons. Ana feels to push this further to reach target weights faster may involve strategic and timely use of nitrogen – particularly in minimising winter feed gaps.
- Preserving remnant vegetation and increasing tree plantings: There is quite a bit of remnant vegetation on their properties, which they are fencing off to allow further revegetation to occur. Ana and Tom haven't really had the luxury of doing this much yet as they have been so debt driven.
- Enhancing biodiversity: Ana and Tom always encouraged large plant species biodiversity – even weeds, as the cattle still seem to eat them. They also don’t use pesticides and by revegetating areas they will encourage further biodiversity outcomes.
- Supplementation: There is plenty of seaweed around King Island and Ana would welcome commercial production or harvesting of red seaweed (Asparagopsis), which when fed to cattle in trials has dramatically reduced their methane emissions. This would be a game-changer for Australian livestock production.
- Genetics: While Ana and Tom have primarily bred Angus cattle to meet market demand, their ideal animal is one with more genetic variability for its hybrid vigour and growth attributes through cross-breeding. They would happily embrace genetics that further pushed the speed to reach market compliance or reduced an animal's methane emissions.
"We support MLA in the quest to develop a robust carbon accounting system which all livestock producers can access. Even if you use it just to establish a baseline for benchmarking your system it has an important value," Ana said.