THE red meat industry has left no federal government dollar-for-dollar research money on the table in the past financial year, for the first time ever.
An unprecedented $373m in research projects has been contracted through Meat and Livestock Australia’s donor company, MDC, set up to attract commercial investment in red meat innovation.
Half of that massive research spend is coming from global and domestic entities who share a mutual interest with producers in advancing beef, goat and sheep meat supply chains.
Most of the work is happening in objective carcase measurement, telecommunications and genomics.
MLA’s annual report, out next month, is expected to reveal in 2017/18 it drew down on 98.8 per cent of available funds where the government matches every dollar the industry is able to put up for research.
The government caps those funds at half a percent of the gross domestic product value of an industry.
Typically, the red meat industry has only been able to use 50 to 60 per cent of the available funds.
MLA’s managing director Richard Norton let slip the annual report data early, in response to questions at Queensland producer forums this week about whether levies should be lifted for cattle producers.
Increasing levies was up to the industry, he said.
“However, I will say that by not increasing levies, it has forced MLA to go out and find other means. It has effectively changed the culture of MLA to be more commercial in the way it thinks,” he said.
“MLA charges a fee to project manage and the end royalties have generated $5.5m in income for MLA - that enables MLA to reduce its expense base.”
“The annual report will show our total expenses are now at 8 to 10pc of total income.”
Mr Norton said there had been a concerted push from the board of MLA to ramp up MDC’s activities, based on the premise “you can’t always go back to levy payers in order to get done what the industry needs done in research and development.”
“We need to find others to help do the heavy lifting in R&D,” he said.
What happens now the cap has been reached?
MLA was now literally turning possible investors, and projects, away.
“When someone comes in with a million dollar project, if it doesn’t fit in with red meat’s
strategic plan, that’s the first criteria but even if it does, we have to prioritise,” he said.
“So we are having some hard conversations, telling people who want to match dollar-for-dollar it’s just not available,” Mr Norton said.
“Of course, if the government lifted its matching funds, we could attract even more R&D money.”