THE sheep industry has a “phenomenal opportunity” ahead of it “to really establish Australian lamb as the premium red meat”, according to Grower Group Alliance chairwoman Kelly Manton-Pearce.
Ms Manton-Pearce made the declaration during her presentation at LambEx 2018 in Perth last week.
But the opportunity had a few clauses.
“We need a whole of supply chain approach to ensure that we are producing the highest quality product possible,” Ms Manton-Pearce said.
“We need the objective individual carcase measurement (that can be available through new technological advances) and we need really good quality feedback from our processors.
“We need to be doing everything right on farm and we need the financial incentives to do it.”
Ms Manton-Pearce discussed the importance of processors adopting the new technology to assist producers produce the best quality product for their markets.
She said there were some trust issues between producers and processors and they could be resolved if there was more transparency and better communication and data sharing from processors to their suppliers.
“It’s really exciting to hear that our industry is edging closer to having these devices to measure intramuscular fat and therefore eating quality and lean meat yield for individual carcases,” Ms Manton-Pearce said.
“As processors actively embrace this technology the upside for us as producers is huge.
“We’ll go from just whole carcase weight and fat score data to getting lean meat yield, and eating quality data – so data for traits that will truly make the carcase valuable.
“And if our processors implement these technologies we can get standardised feedback for our carcases.”
Ms Manton-Pearce said the technology would bring “industry-wide conformity for carcase grading” making it fairer and better for everyone involved.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the power of this individual carcase feedback for our lambs for our business,” she said.
“We’ll see how the lambs are performing, and we can use it to make and fine tune our breeding decisions and improve quality and productivity.
“The processors will be able to use it to determine the true value of our lamb carcases.
“If the processors can determine the economic benefit of rewarding and trading and marketing high-end lean meat yield lambs they can potentially start to upgrade their plant systems to incentivise the quality and perhaps market the brand quality based on these attributes too.
“Until the processors have this information and can demonstrate clear economic gain for trading and rewarding for quality we as an industry will not change.”
Ms Manton-Pearce was concerned about the industry maintaining its “status quo”.
If that happened farmers would “continue producing the biggest carcases that we can because that’s obviously how we get paid the most money,” she said.
“As farmers you are all acutely aware of the market fundamentals of our product right now – its expensive, it’s not a stable food, it’s not an everyday purchase.
“But what is great about our product is the high regard that consumers have for our product, they are willing to pay for quality.”
Ms Manton-Pearce said lamb had “no room for failure” because it was “too expensive not to perform”.
She said despite all the research and implementation of best practice principles, seven per cent of lambs were still failing to meet specifications.
“Forty per cent are either a good everyday, or failing and 59pc are a four or a five star, which is where our product needs to be and is guaranteed not to fail according to consumers,” she said.
“Demand for lamb is growing the premium end of the market and consumers are demanding healthy, differentiated lamb with attributes.
“These are expensive products, they must be accurately graded and quality assured.
“At WAMMCO we can’t actually meet the demand for antibiotic free lamb and we are increasingly being asked to provide grass fed product.
“They are actually two production systems that are quite hard to achieve in WA.
“For us (at WAMMCO) the high value market is the North American trade – so for us to be able to use these devices will hugely benefit our core group members and confirm what we already believe is a really high level of satisfaction for WA lamb.
Ms Manton-Pearce said in the future, with the implementation of the new technology, there could be a situation where there was no longer a premium price paid for the product, because the high-end became the new norm.
There was also concern that processors might not use it to the benefit of producers – and the only example to work off was the beef industry which had been measuring individual carcases for 20 years.
“Whatever these plants decide to do in the future it is going to be individualised for the plant,” she said.
“It will depend on their markets, their supply, whether they are MSA.
“The second concern – and this is wearing my processor hat – is that we may see a potential backlash from producers not wanting to sell into these rewarding systems, instead selling in non-reward systems such as saleyards.
“This is, for me, due to a lack of confidence and trust between processors and producers mostly due to perceived high risk of penalties.
“So we as producers are going to need to see our data.
“We need to see how our lambs are performing, we need our feedback, we need to know if we need to make changes in our production systems so we don’t occur penalties, just premiums, into the future.
“I think there will be a very good extension network around this data.
“When the industry starts giving it to us we are going to need to really understand how to use it properly.”