Kangaroos decimate farmers' profits

Published: April 2019 | Edited by: Joanna Webber

Western NSW farmer Jim Maynard is losing millions of dollars as kangaroos eat his crops and destroy pastures. He calls for better management of kangaroo populations.


Three generations on Kerribee station: Jim Maynard (centre) with grandson Aidan (left) and son James (right). Source: Supplied.
TRAGICALLY, Jim’s son James Reginald Maynard passed away, aged 42 years, since this story was prepared and published (pictured above). NSW Farmers sends their sincerest condolences to the Maynard family at this terrible time. 
 
I was born at Kerribee Station and have been farming here all my life. When you’ve lived on a property for 70-odd years, you grow to love that land. You want to see it healthy and thriving. So it breaks your heart when you see crops and pastures decimated by large numbers of grazing kangaroos.

I run this 47,000-hectare property across the NSW border from Mildura with my wife Maureen, our son James and his wife Wendy. It was predominately a grazing property until the 1980s when we diversified into cropping. 

Today, we graze mostly sheep and some cattle on 35,000ha, grow wheat and barley on 5,000ha and have a 7,000ha conservation area.

Last year we did a test on the property to get a good indication of our exact losses and returns. We planted three separate paddocks with wheat. One was mostly shielded from kangaroos by newly-erected fencing. Another was less protected and the third had no protection from kangaroos at all. Rainfall was similar in all three areas and the only variant was kangaroo grazing.
 

The first paddock (wheat crop) in Jim’s experiment was protected from kangaroos by newly-erected fencing (to the left). Source: Supplied. 

The first paddock yielded 40% more than the second and the third yielded nothing at all. There was nothing left to harvest.
 
“I estimated we lost around half our crops to kangaroos that year, which equates to nearly $500,000.” 

It’s likely that we also lose about 50% of our potential income from the 35,000ha grazing paddocks every year to kangaroos. 

Ours is just one farm. If you added all the farms in Australia whose incomes are being severely impacted, you’d find kangaroo grazing is costing the economy billions of dollars as well as driving up food costs and food security in the long term.

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We have erected 50km of semi-exclusion fencing to help manage the impact, but this type of fencing is expensive and only partially effective. It costs $8,000/km and we have another 50km to go. We can’t afford to put up any more fencing for a while.
 

The unprotected wheat field (third paddock) in Jim’s trial had no protection from kangaroos, leaving nothing for the harvest. Source: Supplied. 

Kangaroo numbers rise and fall depending on the seasons, but it’s during a drought that they really swell on our properties. The aerial counts conducted annually by the Office of Environment and Heritage show kangaroo numbers on the Western Plains can range from about seven million up to more than 16 million.

“In 2014, the Western Lands Advisory Council (WLAC) showed kangaroo populations were building up to numbers higher than have ever been recorded." 

At the same time the percentage of the commercial quota taken dropped from 80% to 11%.

I represent NSW Farmers on the WLAC board and was also a board member of the Western Local Land Services for four years. In 2016, we held a forum at Cobar and invited farmers, harvesters, members of the processing industry, conservationists, veterinarians and Indigenous representatives to come along. A joint  taskforce was then set up with the aim of working towards better control of kangaroo populations.

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It’s a problem that needs to be tackled in several ways. We would like to see a robust commercial industry taking at least 80% of the available quota that is annually set by government. There needs to be more foreign markets established for these products which should be driven at a federal government level. 

Another problem I see is our National Parks policy. Kerribee shares a 28km boundary with a national park that deliberately excludes all artificial water so that kangaroos are forced to go searching for a drink. The park has big dams, but they bank off the catchment, depriving the wildlife of water which forces them onto neighbouring properties to survive. It’s a disgrace.

Personally, I like to see kangaroos about the place. But I like to see them healthy and not suffering. Many of them perish of starvation or disease because no action is being taken to control their numbers. 

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We need to respect the natural rights of these beautiful marsupials, but people must be made aware of the damage their overpopulation can cause and understand the need to keep their numbers stable. 

*Jim Maynard is a NSW Farmers executive councillor, but these are his personal views. If you would like to be ‘On my soapbox’ in a future issue of The Farmer, email: thefarmer@mediumrarecontent.com or write to: The Farmer, Suite 53/26-32 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, NSW 2009. If your topic is chosen, a journalist will be in touch.

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