Specialist production roles key to ramping up grain-fed beef

Specialist production roles key to ramping up grain-fed beef

Beef
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For the full growth potential of grain-fed to be realised, business structures at an on-farm level will need to change.

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THE lift in numbers of genetically-suitable cattle and shift towards value based marketing that will facilitate far greater grain-fed beef production in Australia is already underway, industry experts say.

The more significant change will be towards clearly defined and specialist roles in the production system, they believe.

Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst Angus Gidley-Baird, who this month released a report predicting the nation's total grain-fed beef exports could increase 65 per cent by 2030, said producers, backgrounders, feedlots and processors would all need to work together much closer - a challenge in the current system which is heavily influenced by the availability of grass.

SEE: Can we triple grain-fed exports to China by 2030?

Both Mr Gidley-Baird and agriculture consultant Malcolm Foster, Toowoomba, said the growth of Angus and Wagyu had been driven by the grain-fed industry paying a premium for cattle that marble.

"I suspect Australia has second largest Wagyu herd in the world and is now the largest exporter of Wagyu in the world," said Mr Foster, a former chairman of the Red Meat Advisory Council, Australian Lot Feeders Association and Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association and former manager of big northern NSW lotfeeding operation Rangers Valley.

"It is increasingly being understood that given Australia is the driest continent in the world if we want to grow our beef production, lotfeeding is the only way to do it," he said.

Mr Gidley-Baird said the development of a system where there was an identifiable payment for how well an animal performed in eating quality would lead to faster change.

"A marble score of two or four at the moment is probably getting the same money, which is not giving the producer the incentive to pursue these genetics apart from where they have a good relationship with a feedlotter and feel that by doing so they are securing longer-term pricing stability," he said.

"However, we are gaining the capability to measure, which is the first step to value based marketing.

"Objective carcase measurement work is fostering people's exposure to information and inquisitiveness as to how they can be rewarded for increasing eating quality traits.

"We are a long way behind the United States' formulae-based price which rewards producers both for quality and yield but if we are genuine about being a beef producer for the world, we have to identify what makes us different and part of that is identifying good quality and rewarding producers for it."

Further reading: Northern lotfeeding expansion faces challenges

The whole equation

Genetics is just one part of the equation.

For the full growth potential of grain-fed to be realised, business structures at an on-farm level will need to change.

In the US, which is dominated by grain-fed production, operators have a more clearly defined role.

Here, a producer could be a cow-calf operator for the most part but also a backgrounder and feeder in good times.

More clearly-defined roles and a willingness on the part of producers to perform just one role would be required to take Australia's beef production further down the grain-fed road, Mr Gidley-Baird said.

"You can't gear up feedlot only to find when it rains find every producer is holding onto cattle and feeding them and no cattle are coming through the system," he said.

He believes the pathway to this sort of change will be feedlots forging long-term relationships and paying more consistently to secure ongoing volume.

The bonus to the production sector would be taking some of the volatility out of the market.

"As the capacity of lotfeeding grows, they will become a much bigger buyer in the market and once that starts to happen it shifts the dynamic at the saleyard," Mr Gidley-Baird said.

Numerous advantages

It's just one of numerous advantages of ramping up grain-fed production, Mr Foster said.

"Grain-fed is consistent at whatever quality level you choose and that is simply not possible from pasture feeding," he said.

"Consistency is key to consumer confidence.

"Meanwhile, reducing the age of animals at slaughter not only means the producer is likely to see more returns for cattle but it equals improvements in feed efficiency. That adds up to less greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of beef produced."

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