Australian Rangeland Society

Ben Forsyth,  Three Rivers Station, Meekatharra  WA  6642.  Email:  ben@3rz.com.au

Following my recent trip to the United States I thought I would provide some observations and comments to our Members for consideration or at least reflection.

As a Nuffield Scholar Alumni, I was fortunate to have been awarded travel and registration to attend Texas A&M’s “The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers” (TEPAP) Program, an elite Executive Business Development Course held in Austin each year for around seventy attendees each class. This was an amazing experience, though largely involved learnings outside of the ARS Scope.

This award, however, did get me Stateside, allowing me a four part adventure to make the most of the opportunity:

  1. A road trip of just under 3,000 miles of mostly Rangeland from Austin, via College Station, Fort Worth, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Yuma to San Diego to attend;
  2. The Cattle Industry Convention & National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Trade Show at the San Diego Exhibition Centre, with over 6,000 attendee’s and over 7 acres of displays under one roof.
  3. Attending the Society for Range Management (SRM) 69th Annual International Meeting, Technical Training & Trade Show in Corpus Christi, Texas, which I will elaborate on directly, and;
  4. Visiting the renowned Trust owned Parker Ranch and family owned Ponoholo Ranch, both on the Big Island of Hawaii. Both incredible operations in trying environments. The Ponoholo Ranch, on Kohala Mountain and open only to private visitors, was a highlight of the trip. To see the transition down the ancient volcano from 150 inch rainforest at the top boundary to 5 inch coastal desert just 12 miles away, all visible from the Headquarters verandah, was absolutely mind blowing!

And so on to SRM matters. The SRM Conference had just over 1,000 delegates, though you would have been hard pressed to realize that. The format is different to our typical ARS format, with many concurrent sessions and activities, even during the opening and main plenaries. There is a constant program of Section Meetings and Sub Committee Meetings starting from 6am and continuing well into the evening, which I didn’t attend. These are clearly necessary to keep the momentum of a larger organisation than ours, however, I did feel it took a little away from the event overall. I recall counting several occasions that there were at least 15 events running concurrently, which often lead to only a handful of guests at given presentations.

In attending the Business Meeting, I made the following observations that may have relevance to the ARS.

  1. The SRM are making a concerted effort to establish an International Year of the Rangelands and there was some discussion regarding sourcing support from their International partners.
  2. In the week preceding the Conference one of the major Government Agencies made a decision to withdraw funding for their delegates. This had an obvious impact on attendee numbers, presenters/hosts and a flow on effect to the mood of the event. It has become apparent that Agencies now require a training component to Conferences to be able to justify the support of funded delegates, to which the SRM are now addressing and pursuing.
  3. There is a move by SRM leadership to start attending as guests various meetings of other relevant and related Associations to develop more common themes and goals for the wider rangelands.
  4. SRM are in a very healthy financial position, having experienced extreme budgetary circumstances in recent years. They are now in a position to pay their bills on time and, possibly more importantly, pay future commitments for Conferences well ahead to optimise best rates for venues.
  5. The outgoing President, Pat Shaver, made the impassioned plea for Members to consider their Membership and attendance as an investment in themselves as a professional, rather than expecting others to pick up the tab. This, I am sure, was in response to the Agency staff who, having lost their funding, didn’t make their own way to Corpus Christi. To paraphrase Pat, I wrote in my notes, “There’s a big difference between a career and being a professional. Give the value of being a Member a lot of thought. Is being a professional an important thing as part of your career?” It would seem the days of the Agency “junket” are over and the message is, if funds are not available, then invest in yourself as a professional.

I would encourage you to visit http://rangelandnews.org/archives/2016_jan.html to read the Post Conference notes of both the 2015 and 2016 Presidents to gain a further feel for where their Society is currently placed.

Throughout the Conference I was both impressed by, and a little embarrassed to compare, the strength of Student active involvement in SRM. I was impressed in the over thirty Universities represented by over 200 students taking part in the organised program. There were a further large contingent of secondary students from around Texas being involved as well. I was embarrassed in comparing the absolute void of Rangeland Education in Australia at this time, even allowing for population differences. This is a critical issue for the Australian Rangelands and one that in my opinion the ARS must continue to champion.

Two real strengths I observed was the Young Professionals Conclave and the Recruitment and Job Fair, both investing in “our” Rangeland future. The Conclave provides opportunities for younger Members to network and develop their contacts. Regarding the Fair, it was reported that one Agency alone had fifteen Employment Offer acceptances, given following interviews at the Fair, by the end of the Conference Program.

The Trade Show was interesting, though largely represented by Agency and University booths. I believe there is a role for this for ARS, as I recall to have been the case at previous Conferences. The floor space shared with the Poster Sessions that were well attended, with new posters on each of the main two days. While topics were by nature locally orientated, the age old adage stood true that, “the principles apply”.

I was also introduced to the television program hosted by one of SRM’s passionate Members, Dr. Larry Butler, reflecting on life in the Rangelands. Episodes are informative and entertaining and can be viewed here- www.outontheland.com. At the Awards, Dr Butler was the recipient of the prestigious W. R. Chapline Land Stewardship Award, the awarding of which was recorded for an upcoming episode!

In all, the event was a fantastic experience that I look forward to repeating as time and funds allow. I believe continuing to strengthen our communications with SRM (and all rangeland related groups for that matter) can only benefit the Australian scene. I would recommend ARS Members to consider Pat Shaver’s words on personal professional investment in evaluating opportunities such as the International Rangeland Congress this July in Saskatoon Canada, the January 29th to February 2nd 2017 SRM Annual Meeting, Technical Training & Trade Show in St. George, Utah or other such events around the Rangeland World.