Insight Into Agriculture Production in Australia Back »

This article was written by Claire Andresen under the direction and review of Julie Walker.

I was part of a group of 13 students who traveled to Australia to learn about their agricultural production systems for two weeks on a Faculty-led International Experience. Our tour took us all along the eastern coast of Australia visiting cities such as Sydney, Canberra, Dalby, Armidale, and Toowoomba. We were able to see various segments of agriculture first hand, but especially beef production including feedlots, seed stock producers, sale yards, and an abattoir. Our extensive look into Australia’s beef industry allowed us to compare production practices, technologies, and land management techniques to those used here in the United States. It also gave us an opportunity to meet and network with several Australia producers.

Australia (7,692 million km2) is about 80% of the size of the US (9,629 million km2) in land mass and with a smaller population than the US (Australia = 22.5 million and USA = 316.1million). Although it’s land mass is comparable to the United States, most of its land is found in the Outback and is not suitable for agricultural purposes. The majority of Australia’s agricultural production and population is found along the coast.

Australian producers had been experiencing a drought in specific regions when we arrived in May of 2014. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite of the USA, so it was fall when we arrived. Cattle prices reflected the dry conditions and shortage of forage. A couple examples of cattle prices from the Dalby Sale Barn (Southeast region of Queensland) are provided in the table below. In July 2014, cattle prices at the Dalby Sale Barn had increased. One of the possible reasons for this increase was the precipitation received in drought areas. Needless to say prices are presently higher in the US. Auction sales also work slightly different than in the U.S.: 1) people move to the cattle pens instead of cattle moving to the people, and 2) prices start high and move low and the first person who bids purchases the pen of cattle.

Table 1. Examples of cattle prices from the Dalby Sale Barn in Queensland, Australia

Live Wt., kg
Live Wt, lb
Price, ¢/kg
Price, ¢/lb
Total Value $AUD
Total Value $USD
May Prices
Yearling steers
295 kg
649 lbs
Heavy steers
425 kg
935 lbs
July Prices
Yearling steers
330 kg
726 lbs
Heavy steers
277 kg
609 lbs


Production practices also tend to be different in Australia due to extremely high temperatures and frequent, long-term droughts. Most producers, especially in the north, raise cattle with Brahman influence including breeds such as Brangus, Santa Gertrudis, and Ultrablacks, along with some purebred Brahman cattle. Southern producers use more Bos Taurus breeds such as Angus, Charolais, and Shorthorn. These trends are opposite to what is seen in the United States because Northern Australia is closer to the equator and hotter than Southern Australia. Seed stock producers in Australia take special interest in working closely with their clients to match the right genetics with their herd environment. For example, Rick and Alice Greenup raise Santa Gertrudis cattle and make special trips to visit their clients as well as develop specific educational materials for their producers.

Interestingly, most large producers we visited on the trip had all visited the USA, along with several other countries, to increase their agricultural knowledge and improve their production. They were also very up-to-date on international agriculture news such as prices in other countries, especially the United States, along with new technologies and production practices that were being applied elsewhere. These large producers are very technologically advanced and are continually looking to implement new ideas and improve their efficiency. Producers were very environmentally aware and tended toward practices that were efficient yet environmentally friendly. One crop farm that was visited worked very hard to maintain their topsoil by using control traffic tillage methods that operated machinery in a way that minimized soil compaction to reduce topsoil loss and allow water to seep into the ground. This farm owned a variety of machinery that maximized crop production, reduced water use and runoff, and decreased damage to their fields, crops, and surrounding environments.

Australian feedlot rations had lower energy dense diets due to a lack corn. Thus, cattle are often started in feedlots at an older age after being backgrounded on grass. Feedlot animals are fed for a shorter amount of time (60 to 100 days) than usually practiced here in the U.S. and are finished at lighter weights (900 to 1000 pounds). Any cattle finished at higher weights must be sent to certain abattoirs that could facilitate processing of larger carcasses.

We were able to tour the JBS Beef City, near Toowoomba, in Queensland, Australia, consisting of a feedlot and abattoir. Prior to animals entering the abattoir they were washed to remove dirt and waste material on their hides. Harvest rates were 70 head per hour for a total of 1,100 head per day. This was the first time many students had been in an abattoir to see the complete process from live animals to meat boxed and ready to leave the plant.

A highlight of this trip was getting to see a Koala in the wild up close (within a few feet). According to the local producer we were with, seeing a koala this close-up was a first for him as well as the entire group.

Learn More

If you would like to read more about the SDSU Faculty-led International Experience to Australia, please visit our blog to learn more.

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