Cost of production the challenge in Pardoo's vision for Pilbara Wagyu

Cost of production the challenge in Pardoo's vision for Pilbara Wagyu

Beef
NEW WAYS: Wagyu weaners grazing on irrigated pasture at Pardoo.

NEW WAYS: Wagyu weaners grazing on irrigated pasture at Pardoo.

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Growing grass year-round with irrigated groundwater in the Pilbara is possible, Pardoo proves.

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IT'S being called a gamechanger: the production of a high-value, high eating quality animal in the arid, hot Pilbara via the ability to grow grass year-round with irrigated groundwater.

Pardoo Station's trailblazing pivots and Rhodes grass grazing are paving the way for an eventual 10,000 Wagyu breeder herd and rangeland calving to turn off backgrounded weaners at 350 to 400 kilograms for southern finishing and feedlots, with the ultimate destination top-end Asian markets.

Those behind the brave new venture agree it's pushing the edge but say there a still a lot of things to sort out.

"It is showing what can be done but it's not just dinner on a plate," said Pardoo's technical innovations manager Kevin Bell.

"Trace elements and worms are easy to sort out but we have to sort out an entire new system at scale."

The 200,000 hectare Pardoo near Broome is owned by Singapore businessman Bruce Cheung, whose vision was high marbling Wagyu produced in large numbers off tropical pasture in remote Australia.

Pardoo currently has around 4000 Wagyu breeders, with 1000 weaners growing at the moment on 20 centre pivots, which take up around 900ha.

It's heading towards 30-plus centre pivot irrigated areas, each around 50ha, and a complete rotational grazing system with hay production to manage pasture and capture surplus and a feedlot to have access to additional mouths to feed when needed.

"If you just graze animals year-round on Rhodes the cost of production is very high - around $4.50 a kilogram of beef," Dr Bell explained.

The Pilbara benchmark is $1.60/kg and, for comparison's sake, south west Victoria's is $1.67c/kg.

Dr Bell is, however, confident that can be reduced.

"When on pivots, we will supplement the weaners with a high energy source, which fundamentally lowers costs of production. I think we can get it back to under $3 and for high-end Wagyu that's viable."

BIG PLANS: Bruce Cheung at Pardoo Station, near Broome, with cattle that have traditionally been run on the property. Photo: Nathan Dyer

BIG PLANS: Bruce Cheung at Pardoo Station, near Broome, with cattle that have traditionally been run on the property. Photo: Nathan Dyer

The water comes from the Wallal Aquifer, part of the West Canning Basin, and Pardoo has an allocation of 14.8 gigalitres a year, with bores monitoring flows which are carefully reviewed by the WA Department of Water.

Feed variation

"We have realised to manage this environment we need to have cropping integrated with the grazing," Dr Bell said.

"The variation in feed growth is extreme, due to the temperature and humidity. In one month, it can change from 50kg/ha/day to 100.

"So we have to be able to cut it quick or have cattle on hand to quickly bring onto the pivots in order to utilise that surplus."

The need for additional feed in the winter also has to be managed.

"We are finding a winter maize silage produces a high-yield, efficient source of energy and we are integrating that into the production model," Dr Bell said.

This past summer specialist crops for winter feed were preserved as silage and Pardoo now has animals which have been in a feedyard four weeks.

They are doing very well, about 1.2kg/head/day, bearing in mind it is a backgrounding exercise.

"The feed is really no better than rangeland but it's constant and that allows you to build scale," Dr Bell said.

"The other thing we intend to do is quickly establish an elite nucleus herd of fullblood animals selected for this environment."

Pardoo is confident that a normal growth path with the right genetics will provide the marbling it needs for those Asian markets.

"The genetics we are using are being killed in the east and getting marbling scores of 4 - 9+," Dr Bell said.

So why hasn't it been done before?

"The capital probably hasn't existed. Also, it was the vision of being able to market a high-value animal produced up here with the clean, green image - replacing the traditional animal for the live trade - that kicked it off," Dr Bell said.

"We believe the whole industry can gain something to go forward with by what we are doing. We are rapidly chipping down the COP."

One thing limiting the profitability was State Government regulations prohibiting the planting of more appropriate tropical grasses widely used in the Northern Territory and Queensland for obtaining higher weight gains, Dr Bell said.

"We believe we could halve our COP with such species, for example Mulato II, which can only exist in a high rainfall tropical area - certainly unlike the Pilbara where we receive only 200 to 250mm. It could not possibly survive to become a weed," he said.

"We have put forward a case to authorities for such weed risk assessment to be done, as has been the case for other species.

"Meanwhile it's do the best with what is available to industry."

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