AMBITIOUS goals have been set around red meat eating quality in Australia.
Yet given it is an area with a history of consistent improvement and one that producers recognise as a key determinant of long term profitability, the chances are they will be achieved.
The beef industry plans to have 50 per cent of the national cattle slaughter graded under the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) program by 2020, compared to the current 40pc.
The 2020 compliance goal is 95pc, where compliance now sits at 93.9.
However, the big one is lifting the MSA index two points nationally.
Across three million head of cattle being graded each year, that sort of shift will require “massive significant changes”, MSA program manager at Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) Sarah Strachan acknowledged.
The approach will be to break that goal down so it becomes more meaningful for producers.
“For example, we will look at what it might mean for grassfed producers in NSW to lift their index or how we can improve the bottom five per cent across the board,” Ms Strachan said.
“If we can lift that bottom end, it creates far more value across the entire supply chain from those carcases.”
The MSA index, launched in 2013, is a producer feedback tool which wraps up all the measurements taken on a carcase and represents them in one value.
It is made up only of carcase attributes the producer can control and is measured on a scale of 30 to 80, with the higher figure representing the better result.
The average across the country is currently 57.59.
Using the index, cattle producers can benchmark themselves, via the online myMSA, against other similar production sectors, so they are comparing apples to apples.
These longer term goals for eating quality are directing where MLA invests its research and tool development resources, Ms Strachan said.
Just over 50,000 producers, across cattle and sheep, are now now registered with the MSA program.
Government statistics show there are 210,000 cattle and/or sheep properties in the country.
NSW has the most registered producers but the biggest volume of MSA-graded cattle comes out of Queensland.
“In the first ten years, it was the early adopters getting behind it,” Ms Strachan said.
“Spikes then occurred as big processing groups joined. In 2011-12 there was a 45pc jump in MSA grading and by then all JBS and Teys’ plants were MSA grading and more larger retailers adopted MSA in their business.”
Now in its 20th year, MSA is still averaging around 3000 new producer registrations a year.
Of those registered, around 13000 producers actively consign cattle each year and 6,600 consign lamb.
Some consign week in week out, others just once or twice a year.
Grainfed cattle are currently achieving 98pc compliance, while there is a lot more variation in grassfed. In the 2016/17 financial year, grassfed cattle compliance was 90.7pc - an improvement of 2pc on the previous year.
Compliance had constantly improved over the 20 years of MSA, Ms Strachan said.
“Growth in grading in recent years has primarily come from existing processors rather than new participants,” she said.
“This indicates that those who have been involved are expanding grading within their business, clearly seeing value in the program.
“What is growing exponentially in this space is brands.”
There are now 156 brands underpinned by MSA, the majority beef, with 16 new ones launched last year.
“MSA is an independent endorsement of brands,” Ms Strachan said.
“Brands are getting closer to the consumer, who are looking for a story but at same time expecting the product to perform to their expectations- this is the way brands can secure that performance.”
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