9 July, 2021
This is Channel Country: Pests, drought, and flood
Local Angus Emmott shares his thoughts on the future of dingo management
FIERY sunsets, dazzling stars, unbounded nature, and breath-taking peace are how the Emmott family describes their iconic 52,000 hectares of Channel Country property.
Forward-thinking and passionate grazier Angus Emmott says as a result of climate change, he is experiencing “hotter, drier periods interspaced with more intense and violent rainfall events” on Noonbah Station, 130km south of Longreach.
Mr Emmott caught up with the Longreach Leader to discuss the strategies he implemented to ensure the property’s longevity.
Noonbah Station sprawls across ridges, flats, ancient hills, and vast flood plains, and has been in Mr Emmott’s family since 1914.
They run up to 3000 heads of cattle, depending on the season.
The diversity of Noonbah’s flora and fauna reflects the wide variety of habitats, from black soil to red, gidyea to mulga, floodplains to rocky ridges, and spinifex escarpments.
Farmers for Climate Action Board Director, Mr Emmott, said given that we already live in one of the driest parts of the driest inhabited continent on earth, this made running a grazing business more challenging.
As the Central West enters its eighth year of drought, The Leader asked Mr Emmott if he believed now was the time for locals to rethink farming practices.
“I don’t think we are going to have an option, because the climate is changing and we are getting longer, drier periods, interspersed with more violent wet periods,” he said.
“We’ve certainly changed over the last 20 years, and people are changing, and most people have no stock on and that’s a huge change.”
According to Mr Emmott, during the flood season, half of Noonbah goes underwater, which means it is a prime fattening country.
“One of the things we have done is we have ceased breeding cows as we found with the long dry periods we couldn’t sell our cattle, and we couldn't agist them as everywhere was in drought,” he said.
“When it was muddy, there was no natural feed, the cows were getting bogged and knocking our country around badly, so we made the decision to go into buying and selling.
“By buying and selling steers, if we have had good rain or a forecast for good rain we can get steers, fatten them and sell them off.
“If we don’t get enough rain, we can still send them off to a feedlot and get money for them, without the stress of money and keeping them alive.
“Not everyone can do that but in this part of the world we have the gold country just above us, which is a brilliant breeding part of the world, but not very good for fattening in a drought.”
Agriculturally, there has been a shift in farming practices including the incorporation of carbon farming.
Mr Emmott said farmers were very aware of the change and have tried to adapt their business models to accommodate changes like drought and flood.
“I think in lots of inland Australia we are just going to have to accept that we are going to have those big, long dry periods and ensure we are flexible enough business-wise to cope with that, cause those who don’t do that are not going to survive,” Mr Emmott said.
“We have just had three decent summers, but we had eight years straight of drought before that.
“It has nothing to do with management, it was just good luck.”
Mr Emmott said learning to farm smarter was about adaption.
“It is pretty simple, everyone I know likes to eat and most people eat at least once per day, so agricultural has to go on and we just have to learn how to do it better,” he said.
“And that's all about adaption over the longer term and climate change will make it challenging.
“There will be parts of Australia that will no longer be suitable for agriculture.
"The way we are doing it now and into the future, there maybe be other ways of coping with it which we haven't worked out yet.”
Mr Emmott believes in putting pressure on politicians to take serious climate change commitments.
"I think we have to learn to be flexible, but we also have to put pressure on our politicians to make commitments to reducing and working towards carbon neutrality by 2050,” he said.
“Our Federal Government is missing in action, we are doing it ourselves anyway, but we need a bit of leadership from our government.”
Mr Emmott said while people argue “the climate has always changed,” anthropogenic change on top of it is changing quicker than ecosystems can adapt.
“Agriculture can adapt to that,” he said.
ARE THEY REALLY PESTS?
While many farmers opt to protect their property from the likes of wild dogs, foxes, and kangaroos with fencing and deadly baits, the Emmotts are adapting their property and farming tactics in a more natural way.
“It is quite controversial but there is a lot of hard data to support it, and that is we leave the dingoes alone,” he said.
“When you leave the dingoes alone, they run as family groups, and we only have a couple of family groups on our property.
“The family groups keep other dingoes away, feral dogs away, we have no cats and foxes and very few roos.
“Because we have very few roos we have total control of our grazing pressure.”
Mr Emmott said the decision enabled the grazing pressure to be up to the family and how many cattle they have on the property.
“Once dingo families are settled down, and there is plenty of grass cover and water available, cows aren't walking long distances and leaving their calves alone for long periods of time, there is no issue with the dingoes,” he said.
“There are going to be a lot of people that disagree strongly with that, and it doesn’t always work in sheep and goat country, but it does work here in beef country,” said Mr Emmott.
The Emmott’s stopped baiting dingoes in 2001.
Dingoes or ‘Wild Dogs’, as they are sometimes known, are listed as "least concern wildlife" under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, therefore the dingo is protected in National Parks and conservation areas.
However, they are also listed as a pest in the Land Protection Act 2002 which requires landowners to take reasonable steps to keep their land free of pests.
Co-founder of Australian Dingo Foundation and former grazier Lyn Watson said dingoes were not wild dogs – they are an entirely different species to that of the domesticated dog.
“Humans need to stop interfering with dingo social stability,” said Ms Watson.
“When farmers begin shooting dingoes then there is a fight for control between the juveniles when there is no leader, and the family groups act as mentors.”
Ms Watson lodged an inquiry about the dingo’s decline to Parliament.
“Dingoes prefer native prey as they have a paleolithic digestive system and have a strong preference for lean protein as they don’t produce the enzymes required to digest fatty meats such as lamb,” she said.
“The reintroduction of cruel trapping and bating and the introduction to aerial bating affects flora and fauna and other native species including birds of prey.
“Human interference isn’t just affecting dingo populations, it is affecting other species including birds of prey who feed on these poisoned carcasses and the endangered golden shoulder parrot Alwal.
“Alwal’s key threats are predation by feral cats, goannas, and overgrazing of wallabies on cockatoo grass, which is the parrot's main source of food.
“Dingoes as 24/7 pest controllers are unmatched by time-consuming and expensive poisons, trapping and shooting that only serve to create a temporary disturbance in population numbers.
Ms Watson has urged Parliament to bring in new legislation for lifestyle protection solutions that are the first fork of defense and provide the best welfare outcomes for both livestock and dingoes.
At Noonbah Station, Mr Emmott has documented over 500 plant species and up to 188 bird species, adding up to 321 vertebrates in total.
Because of Mr Emmott’s deep knowledge of the land and its creatures, many universities, museums, and individual scientists regularly visit and base their research at Noonbah.
Mr Emmott has identified many new species and subspecies and has even had a few named after him.
He co-authored Snakes of Western Queensland and Frogs of the Lake Eyre Basin and has contributed to many publications.
On Australia Day 2017, Angus was honoured with an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia) for service to conservation and the environment.
According to Mr Emmott, farming practices have come a long way over the years.
Modern technology and Indigenous knowledge about the lands has assisted graziers in their enteral battle with Mother Nature, but admittedly there is still much that can be learned from the bush and these lands.
Australia is seeing a rapid increase in extreme weather events.
Mr Emmott believes farmers will need to be adaptive and revolutionary in how they farm going forward. A core element of the next Federal Election is said to be the establishment of Australia's aim to be carbon neutral by 2050.
There are questions surrounding the impact this will have on farming families across the district if that goal takes flight.