Dairy cows graze in front of BHP’s Mount Arthur mine in Muswellbrook. (ABC News: Ginny Stein)
Two industries that have often found themselves at loggerheads are now finding ways to work together to get the most out of the land and turn a profit.
As the mining boom draws to a close, coal miners who own vast swathes of land in the Hunter Valley are increasingly focussing on farming and grazing.
Farmers were once considered the lifeblood of the nation, but there are 40 per cent fewer of them in Australia than there were 30 years ago.
“They were part of a vibrant agricultural region and the Hunter Valley was one of our strongest agricultural regions historically,” National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson told Lateline.
Around the coal fields of Muswellbrook, as land is retired from mining, companies like BHP are experimenting with planting pastures and landscapes suited for grazing cattle.
So far, according to grazier Trevor Petith, it’s proving successful, with trials showing that cattle grazing on rehabilitated pasture have grown quicker and heavier.
“The trial, I think has been a good example of what be done when the country is rehabilitated,” he said.
Mr Petith and his wife Narelle are leasing a 1,500-hectare property, Edderton, from BHP on the edge of New South Wales’ largest open cut coal mine, Mount Arthur.
Mr Petith said it is an agreement that works well for both parties.
“The only disadvantage of farming like this is that you are on a lease… that is always in the back of your mind, that you could lose the lease,” he said.
“Both sides have got to realise the benefits of the country being looked after and producing food and I think the mines allowing farmers to lease country is doing that and producing food.”
Elsewhere in the region, mining giant Glencore took a different approach and instead of leasing its land to farmers, they bought a pastoral company, Colinta Holdings.
“I think there are arguments either way. My philosophy is that we are good at what we do, we understand the mining sector, we are able to operate within that and control our own destiny,” managing director Gary Johncock said.
“I think in terms of asset value, of maintaining properties, we’ve been able to satisfy the requirements there. I think it works for us to manage our own operation.”
Ms Simson said partnerships between miners and farmers are likely to continue well into the future.
“Certainly not farming as we know it, but I think it is certainly how we are going to see farming in the Muswellbrook region and in the Hunter go into the next decade,” she said.
The Mount Arthur mine in the Hunter Valley is a standout feature in the region. (ABC: Cecilia Connell)
Watch the story tonight on Lateline at 9.30pm on ABC News or 10.30pm on ABC TV.