AFTER a decade of being beaten down by drought, flood, the Australian dollar and animal activists, the kangaroo meat business is again on the rise.
Its run of adversity has taken a big toll on the industry: it used to have 16 processing plants, and now only has four.
Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia (KIAA) president Ray Borda, managing director of Macro Meats, believes the industry's fortunes are shifting, thanks to growing export demand and a new strategy to avoid the attention of animal activists.
Kangaroo processors have begun instructing shooters that they will only take bucks. In doing so, they are disarming activists' main weapon against wild-harvested kangaroo: graphic images of joeys and pouch young from shot does being killed because they would be unable to survive alone.
Mr Borda said experienced kangaroo shooters can tell a buck from a doe in the field, especially if it is the dimorphic red kangaroo, a favoured species.
By eliminating does, the industry does itself some extra favours.
The skins, a valuable by-product for leather, are more valuable from males because the surface area isn't interrupted by a pouch; and males don't have the contamination potential that goes with a pouch.
As a culling strategy, taking only bucks is much less effective than shooting across the sexes - a buck can service 30 females - but Mr Borda responds that the ideal is to maintain kangaroo as a sustainable resource.
That might seem an unnecessary goal to landholders currently guarding drying crops and pastures against roo grazing pressure, but Mr Borda has big visions for the industry.
"For years we were frightened to defend ourselves against activists," he said. "Now we want to stand up and get kangaroo out there as a premium product."
If kangaroo products reach the sort of demand that Mr Borda hopes for, he envisages a trickle-down of revenue through the industry to landholders who help maintain sustainable kangaroo stocks.
Macro is betting on its own optimism. It is undergoing an extensive rebranding of its product lines, and is undertaking a multi-million dollar doubling of capacity at its South Australian works.
Although Australia remains the biggest market for roo meat, it is gaining ground overseas, particularly in the European Union and Russia. There, traditions of eating game meat are converging with a modern desire for lean, supplement-free meat.
More than two-thirds of people who consume kangaroo now do so for health reasons, Mr Borda said. Weightlifters, athletes and other high performers value the meat as a source of protein with minimal fat and high levels of conjugated lineolic acid (CLA).
To push along the perception of kangaroo as a premium meat, Macro is taking a leaf from the beef and lamb industries and starting to apply some grading standards.
In the absence of the technologies available to livestock processors, grading is done by identifying intakes of kangaroos according to seasonal conditions in the regions they came from.
The grading process is enhanced each lunchtime at Macro, when there is a taste-testing of the company's own product.
"We know exactly when, say, the better roos have moved out of South Australia into western New South Wales."
As it pushes harder into export markets, Macro is also shoring up its export protocols.
The company placed a voluntary stop on its exports to Russia in July, after a container of 744 cartons mistakenly included 19 cartons intended for the European Union.
Mr Borda said the mistake occurred in a third-party cold storage facility.
Macro is resuming trading to Russia this week after the storage facility admitted fault, and Macro introduced new protocols - including new cartons, labelling and an inspector - into its supply chain through to Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"We are pleased to have resolved this issue so swiftly and will continue our commitment to upholding the integrity of Australia’s meat export industry," Mr Borda said.
"Macro Meats views this result as a great vote of confidence by the Russians in our company, the kangaroo industry and DAFF."