BGS Old Boy Tom Strachan ’90 says he’s ‘just a cowboy’ – but that doesn’t do justice to his lofty ambitions to transform the pastoral industry.
His company Packhorse aims to show the world cattle grazing can be done differently, using regenerative agriculture to improve the soil, and benefit, rather than damage, the environment.
As Chief Investment Officer and ‘Chief Storyteller’ at Packhorse, he’s blunt about the story he’s telling. “We have ruined our soils, and we have a broken supply chain in the beef industry with an adversarial relationship between producer and processor,” Strachan said. “I’m trying to get the story out that we have a huge opportunity to feed the world with clean, grass fed beef, and we can do that by fixing our soils and sequestering carbon.”
Strachan adopted the Chief Storyteller title while building up his labour hire company AWX, which he sold in 2014. The proceeds enabled him to fulfil his lifelong dream of buying his own cattle property, and turn his attention to building “the largest land custodian business in the world”. Packhorse recently acquired Stuart’s Creek, near Roma, the first parcel of land in its plan to acquire two million hectares over five years.
Strachan didn’t spruik regenerative grazing when he started seven years ago “because people would think you were strange. But it’s a movement that’s gaining momentum now – we just can’t continue to take from the land without putting something back.”
A recent drought illustrated the benefits – where his neighbour’s paddocks were bare, on the other side of the fence his own were lush and green.
“You’ve got to get legumes in, and you’ve got to rest country,” Strachan said. “We’re putting large amounts of cattle on to land for short periods of time and then resting it, allowing animals to stimulate the plants and the microbiology of the soil.”
Strachan is also giving back to Brisbane Grammar School. He and wife Anna (BGGS ’91) have donated $500,000 to the BGS Bursary Fund to ensure more boys from the bush have the opportunity of a BGS education.
“I think BGS needs the kid from Cunnamulla and the kid from Ipswich; the kid from Woodridge or Cairns, who provide a different flavour to the School,” he said.
Coming from the bush himself, Strachan knows the value of boarding at BGS, but it almost didn’t happen. “The week before school started, my father wrote a letter to Headmaster Max Howell and told him, ‘I’ve got this kid who can run a bit and play a bit of rugby league’. Max Howell said, ‘We’ve always got room for a bush kid’, and I ended up at Brisbane Grammar School.”
This last-minute change in plan was the right decision. “It was fantastic. BGS was very good at producing a ‘Grammar Man’ who could read poetry during the day but could also play hard on the rugby field after class,” he said.
Strachan is now a current BGS parent; his son Lewis is in Year 11, and Noah finished in 2019. He believes it is vital diversity continues to play a role at the School.
“We need to be a school that attracts kids who come from all walks of life. The opportunity of an education can spur them on to become leaders and give back to society,” he said. “That’s why I think bursaries are so important.”