The pristine cattle country of the Arcadia Valley has allowed the Benn family to run a high-quality organic herd, but nature can be just as cruel as it is kind.

When David Benn's parents came to the Arcadia Valley almost six decades ago, they were part of a group who were balloted in the Queensland Brigalow Development Scheme. The formerly untamed bush grazing block has been turned into a natural production powerhouse, running about 1200 predominately Angus cattle. Mt Kingsley covers about 3755 hectares in the Arcadia Valley, with sandstone cliffs as the back boundary.

Farm History

The Benns were one of the families who were allocated land in the Arcadia Valley in what was formerly a wild bush block. David's parents, Owen and Mary, saw the potential of the country, yet it was unproven country and a tough existence early on, with no power, no phone and relative isolation. It was a sense of comradery with the others who won country in the ballot that kept David's parents going, and knowing that with hard work and good management, this country could be productive.

As each generation has taken stewardship, they have played a role in Mt Kingsley's transformation.

As each generation has taken stewardship, they have played a role in Mt Kingsley's transformation. For Owen and Mary, the tasks were clear: it was about removing scrub and building infrastructure like buildings and fences and dams. When David and Chris took up the mantle in 1991, the work on infrastructure continued, alongside a growing desire to work with the environment for a sustainable production system.

Now the third generation - Claudia Benn and her partner Miles Burow - have returned home and will tackle the sustainability challenge further, ensuring the work done by those before them can continue to allow Mt Kingsley to run a natural production system. And with Claudia's training as an agronomist, the family will harness her knowledge and skills in a new phase of land management at Mt Kingsley.


Farm/Enterprise Name: Mt Kingsley

Farm/Enterprise Location: Arcadia Valley, Queensland, Australia

Primary Markets Served: Organic export market

Staffing: Three

Property Size: 3,755ha

Property Elevation: 300-400m

Average Annual Rainfall: 630mm

Climate: Sub-tropical

Soil Types: Duplex clays

Challenge: Wet, wet, wet - when the rain kept falling

David clearly remembers the noise of the water coming off the cliffs, a roar that is imprinted on his memory.

The season of 2011 was unlike any other, with 1550 millimetres of rain measured at Mt Kingsley, which was more than double the normal annual rainfall. So when a storm event dumped more than 220 millimetres of rain overnight just before Christmas that year, the waterlogged cliffs couldn't cope. It was the same storm that hit Toowoomba and Grantham and caused so much devastation, and while the focus was understandably on the more populated areas, the local damage done at Mt Kingsley was dramatic.

The aftermath of landslides at Mt Kingsley in 2011

David clearly remembers the noise of the water coming off the cliffs, a roar that is imprinted on his memory. He also recalls feeling shell-shocked as he ventured out to survey the damage. What he saw were rocks the size of cars strewn across the paddocks, and what he describes as 'water like custard' oozing across the paddocks.

'There were dozens of landslides along the range, and there was rubbish everywhere,' David says. 'Because we had received a lot of rain that year, we had plenty of ground cover but the force of the water was too strong to stop the landslides.'

Mt Kingsley was a mess, with the force of the water bursting dams built in gullies, filling other dams with silt, destroying kilometres of fencing and leaving paddocks covered with debris.

Solution: One fence at a time, one dam at a time

There was so much damage after that rain event that it was almost overwhelming, but David and Chris Benn have chipped away at restoring Mt Kingsley one dam and one fence line at a time.

The initial response was to find all their cattle, and despite the ferocity of the rain, just 10 of the 1200 cattle were missing. Those that were safe were mustered into the paddocks which still had fencing. It was then a process of standing up fences and cleaning out dams, with the latter a costly process. Dam renovation has cost them $250,000 to date.

...any dams that had been washed out were rebuilt in a slightly different position.

While fences that could be were stood up, and others rebuilt along the same fence lines, any dams that had been washed out were rebuilt in a slightly different position. 'We wanted to be able to make the most of the water coming down the gullies, but rebuilding in the same spot meant that they could be washed out again,' David says.

The solution was to move the dams slightly to the side of the gully and build a bridge and bank to divert the water into the dam in its new position. The changes have dual benefits; the bank will wash out and not the whole dam should there be another major rain event, but it has also improved water quality. David says that water quality has always been an issue, coming off the hills 'like chocolate', as has dams filling with silt, but the new sites for dams have seen some improvement.

Another strategy to improve water quality has involved planting of water weeds, like para grass, which have worked to partially clear the water.

Outcome: Same, same but different

The minor changes the Benns have made to Mt Kingsley should stand them in good stead should another major erosion event occur. It was not realistic or reasonable to think about large scale moves of fenclines or dams. And David says there is no ability to prepare for a similar event, unlike bush fires or droughts.

Yet those slight tweaks, and especially the change in position of catchment dams in gullies, has improved water quality and potentially protected them from being blown out again. But this major weather event and the erosion control that has followed has made David hyper aware that it could happen again.

Seeing the fallout from the 2011 event made him look more closely at the landscape.

He says seeing the fallout from the 2011 event made him look more closely at the landscape, and it was possible to see signs of previous landslides once he knew what to look for.

It was evident on trees, where the bark had been stripped from one side as the force of water and debris hit them from previous events. It hasn't made it any easier to prepare, but it has given him a greater understanding of the country he runs and how nature can be both cruel and kind.

Challenge: Selling the environment

A natural production system lends itself to targeting a high value market, so organic meat was an ideal fit for Mt Kingsley.

With the ability to produce heavy weight Angus-infused steers with a dressed weight of 340 kilograms at about 32 months of age, the Benns wanted to be able to sell in a way that attracted a premium. It is all very well to have a good product and to be organically certified but, to build market share, that product has to be available 12 months of the year to customers and not on a seasonal basis.

And without finding a way to make supply available all year, the chance to earn a premium was a true challenge.

Solution: Team work makes the dream work

David and Chris joined a group that supply a beef brand marketed as 'Arcadian Beef'. This select group of beef producers align with the requirements of the brand, which trades on its ethos of Australian-raised, 100% certified carbon neutral and free range.

The meat is promoted under the following values:

  • Highest quality
  • Natural
  • High animal welfare standards
  • Care for the environment
  • Free range

While they supply Arcadian Meat, the fact that the Benns run their cattle in the Arcadia Valley is a mere coincidence. The other producers supplying the brand come from a widespread area, but with shared production strategies can supply a consistent flow of naturally produced beef year round.

Outcome: Meating the market

Arcadian Meat supplies some of the major United States retailers, where the beef grown by the Benns and others is stocked on shelves as a premium brand. The arrangement, which was brokered by an agent in Toowoomba, has allowed the Benns to be rewarded for the natural production system they use to run their Angus-infused cattle, rather than rely on the vagaries and inconsistencies of selling over the hooks or in the saleyards.

The respect the Benns have for the country they manage to run their cattle is clear, and it's nothing new. David says his father was 'ahead of his time' when it came to working with the land, despite the fact that his first role was to clear it.

And David and Chris couldn't be happier that their daughter Claudia and partner Miles share their philosophies of being productive but working in partnership with the environment.