KING Island is a fitting name for such a beautiful, highly-productive place.
Its aesthetically stunning looks aside, this speed bump in Bass Strait is agriculturally fully charged and chock-a-block full of lessons for the gargantuan continent that hangs over its head, geographically, certainly not figuratively.
My first ever memories were on King Island. My family moved off the island in 1987 after we sold the beef farm. Dad was also a cray fisherman.
We were one of the first farm businesses on the island to switch to block or cell grazing for beef, a trend that’s grown into the norm now, where rotational grazers greatly outnumber set-stockers.
Aerial view of the picturesque King Island.
Rotational grazing contributes to the sustainably high stocking rates on the island where 16 to 22 DSE/ha is commonplace (2.3 to 3.1 LSU/ha for northerners).
Off the back of this piece of personal history, I was honoured to return 27 years later to MC the King Island Beef Producers Group “Beef Day” last Thursday.
The 35-member group of businesses own 80 per cent of the cattle on the island, and when combined with the 20pc on the outside of the tent, the island makes up 22pc of Tasmania’s beef production, which is around 40,000 head that leave King for processing per year.
The group's chair is 34-year-old Richard Sutton.
Cattle grazing on King Island's lush pastures.
I did note is was as rare to see a person in such a role at an age more than 10 years away from holding a seniors card, as it was a group of farm businesses so clearly prepared to embrace and empower young people to have a crack through such a role.
And while Richard heads up the biggest group of businesses on the island (that feed two of our most premium domestic beef brands), he’s a part of a very strong and vibrant group of young people working, managing or taking over the family farm.
My old man would say on that, some things haven’t changed, as he and Mum speak so highly of their time on King at a similar age.
From all conversations I had, I’d challenge another person to find such a large group of local farm businesses where innovation, forward thinking and unity are so well understood.
Their situation gives them a comprehensive understanding of the supply chain which pays off as they insist on upholding the integrity of some of the most valuable food brands in Australia. No matter how it came about, their attitudes, willingness and capacity to unite and sell under a premium brand has been realised.
Their next challenge is to see some of that value created by the brand return through the farm gate and improving their logistics.
Since JBS closed its abattoir on the island in 2012, cattle are now processed on mainland Tasmania for King Island Beef and Cape Grim brands, but transport costs have jumped from $12 per head to $120 per head.
Some may say it's an insurmountable challenge, but these guys have the unity, drive and smarts to tackle it, so it will be interesting to watch that space.
I asked Richard about farming on King Island. He said he loved the relaxed environment and opportunities, and he also noted the reliability of the maritime climate.
It's something that was also brought up in Pip Courtney’s story on ABC's Landline last Sunday, where she profiled David and Jill Raff, of Raff Angus, a Queensland cattle family that has looked to King Island to escape the crippling drought that's now engulfing 80pc of Queensland.
Sick of the sporadic, less reliable rainfall they moved their 600 head Angus stud to King Island. And they will do well. Animals leave King Island for slaughter at 400kg to 500kg at 18 to 24 months. All grass fed. The new black.