BEN Emery, the feedlot induction manager at Northern NSW operation Rangers Valley, has taken the 2019 prestigious Young Lot Feeder of the Year award.
The award, given by the Australian Lot Feeders' Association and sponsored by Performance Feeds, attracted a record 19 entrants this year.
It was announced tonight at the Australian Community Media dinner held as part of ALFA's Smart Beef 2019 conference in Dalby.
Mr Emery and fellow finalists Lucy Morris and Molly Sage gave presentations at the conference on issues they felt were high priority in today's lot feeding game.
Mr Emery honed in on information flow in the supply chain.
He advocated long-term relationships and the provision of relevant, relatable and understandable feedback.
"If we change our mindset to building the entire supply chain up with us, think how much more efficiently can we run our businesses," he said.
"Producers are the foundation blocks on which our businesses are built.
"Why would we hinder our success by not giving producers an understanding of the key performance indicators of our business?"
Mr Emery also manages an Angus stud and said his love for the land and cattle led him to want to expand his knowledge of, and involvement in, the industry exponentially.
"Being both a feedlot operator and seedstock producer, the one issue that really stands out to me is the disconnect about transparency in our supply chain," he said.
"How many producers understand how the key aspects of their livestock programs impact the performance of feedlot businesses?"
While he said every operation differed, Mr Emery listed the key contributors to prosperity as being pre-feedlot nutrition, vaccination, weaning methods, maturing patterns, frame scores and genetic evaluation, marbling and fat and net feed intake.
"Are we delivering this information back to producers or are we making an assumption they are well understood?" he asked.
"It is up to the industry as one to drive genetic improvement in feedlot animals.
"The key is to focus on individual feedback with producers to meet both their goals and ours and to create an understanding of the targets.
"It is not just about providing the data back but analysing it so producers understand how their cattle perform."
Lucy Morris works as the livestock, marketing, export and production officer for feedlot and quarantine company TW Pearson and Son in WA.
Having started her career at a grassroots level working on cattle stations, she today helps manage 20,000 to 30,000 head scattered across more than 28,000 hectares on properties from Dongara to Esperance.
She believes the greatest controllable risk facing the feedlot sector is social licence, with a specific focus on community expectations and animal welfare outcomes.
From drought to the cost of grain, Ms Morris said feedlot operators faced a number of variables they had little influence over yet still built risk control systems to help mitigate risk.
Social licence should be treated the same, she argued.
"The concept of social licence has spread with mutant expansion across food production sectors globally over the past 25 years," she said.
"It holds the power to turn the tables on community acceptance overnight and has the potential to shut down our industry if people do not believe we are operating in an ethical way.
"Yet it is hard to define and even harder to measure."
Ms Morris said the solution was in maintaining the confidence of the consumer and community and "living up to their ideals on how we conduct our operations."
She outlined to the Smart Beef conference her idea of "Three Cs to Social Licence": confidence from the community, competence of operators and compliance.
"Activists are extremely effective in their messaging and we have to match that," she said.
"I believe we have to share exactly what it is we do. The percentage of Australians who have seen a feedlot is very small and often the only knowledge people have is what they see in the media. We have to be proactive.
"And we have to ensure we have a solid foundation to our production claims. Best practice is not only the best way forward, it's the only way.
"We have to advocate for internal issues to be dealt with by industry. Everyone has a role to play in relation to social licence."
Molly Sage, the mill foreperson at JBS' Beef City near Toowoomba, presented a simple and effective idea in which the feedlot sector could improve its carbon footprint as well as advance average daily weight gain and rumen health.
Her algae biogas or biodiesel powered boiler sparked enormous interest.
Algae was is in the top three most sustainable energies in the world yet it was little known, Ms Sage said.
"It is such a simple, clean green energy cycle that can be potentially created with existing water resources in feedlots," she said.
"It stores methane within itself to produce a natural clean gas, therefore eliminating a large portion of our carbon footprint."
Production was simple, Ms Sage explained.
Plant the algae type in sediment ponds around the feedlot, obtain the naturally-occurring biogas or diesel then power it straight into boilers.
"Lastly, the dead algae - the byproduct - can go straight to livestock rations, reducing the use of grain and cotton seed," she said.
"It is one of the highest sources of omega 3 and protein but it also offers rumen gut health benefits."
Ms Sage predicted that eventually an EC02 rating might be seen on beef labels alongside the likes of Meat Standards Australia, hormone-free or organic.
Who wouldn't want a five star carbon footprint rating, she asked.
ALFA president Bryce Camm said the award embodies passion, leadership, development and initiative and encourages emerging, dedicated employees to contribute their ideas and vision for lot feeding at a national level.
It had been invaluable to discover and encourage some of the industry's up-and-coming talent, he said.
"Our finalists this year are leading the way for a positive future for the lot feeding industry in Australia. Their ideas for the industry expressed through their essays, their experiences and their references have left the judging panel awed at the enthusiasm and passion of these young people for their industry."