CHILLED lamb could be a further export opportunity into China, according to some WA producers who have just returned from a sheepmeat insights tour.
A delegation of WA sheep producers and industry representatives embarked on the China tour, which was led by the Department of Agriculture and Food with support from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and processor V&V Walsh.
York feedlot manager Scott Boyle, who runs a 20,000 head feedlot facility, said Chinese tastes are changing.
"It is changing rapidly and it is becoming a lot more westernised," Mr Boyle said.
"The challenge for WA producers is to push to get chilled product in there.
"The Chinese don't take any chilled lamb (currently).''
Mr Boyle said from his experience he noticed all the meat imports were frozen, then defrosted to be boned and processed and then frozen again to sell.
"They can't do this with their local product because of the hygiene, whereas the Australian hygiene levels are so high this is possible," he said.
"But this destroys the quality, so the challenge is, if they are becoming more westernised they could have the opportunity to appreciate the chilled product and pay for that product."
Mr Boyle said MLA and the Australian trade office could investigate the opportunity.
"I noticed there was a gap in the market and an opportunity," he said.
"The recent Memorandum of Understanding agreement (for sheep meat) and free trade agreements are a great platform to negotiate getting chilled product into China.''
Mr Boyle said his experience on the tour would prompt him to make changes in his feedlot.
"The scale is hard to imagine," he said.
"Food security is important and the demand is there.
"I will be increasing my capacity, but I will need more product and I will be talking to people on ways we can supply lambs, because the demand is there."
Mining and Pastoral region MLC Mark Lewis said building long-term relationships and having long-term goals was a step in the right direction.
"The obvious thing was that we need to keep pursuing a chilled market," Mr Lewis said.
"This would open up the most opportunity for WA producers.
"This is the long-term goal, but if we want to get into that high-value end of the market, which we have to, we need to build relationships within the value chain."
The delegation not only received a taste of local cuisine, they also had a firsthand glimpse of the Grand Farm's property, lotfeeding and processing facilities in Harbin, Heilongjiang province and in Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia.
They looked at retail and food service channels in Beijing, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia and Shanghai and local sheep production systems.
Tour delegates were impressed with the size of Grand Farm's property and facilities and Grand Farm president Chen Xibin's vision, and the true extent of demand for the product.
Wellard Agri chief executive officer Tim Macnamara said seeing the size of the market and demand was an eye-opening experience.
"I think there was some good engaging conversations throughout the supply chain and discussions on how do we do what we do better?" he said.
"Between the two, V&V Walsh and Grand Farm, you have two industry leading players.
"Grand Farm and Mr Chen's vision for food security, the second-to-none facilities, the thought process of how to integrate breeding, lotfeeding through to processing and their demand from sourcing quality products from quality locations in Australia and New Zealand is impressive.
"It continued to make me aware of working closely with the relevant parties within the industry and to work together to improve what we do and how can we play more of a part to assist with building our flock?"
Mr Lewis said WA producers and authorities needed to focus on supply given the high demand.
"There is opportunity in the southern rangelands, if we get rid of the dogs," he said.
"Sheep meat will be the obvious thing to grow, we could grow bigger sheep in the pastoral regions, but it is a long-term vision.
"I am confident this long-term strategy would work and I hope one day we will again see sheep from Katanning up to the Goldfields, and those going into sheep meat."
DAFWA agribusiness and food trade development manager Terry Burnage said the group was able to get an insight into the strategies behind the Grand Farm supply chain.
"The China Insights Tour provided participants with the opportunity to observe first-hand many aspects of this very significant market," he said.
"Participants were briefed on future consumer and supply chain drivers that will underpin opportunities over the next several years and received in-market briefings by a range of experts.
"The tour allowed for an in-depth understanding of the current and future strategies of the Grand Farm supply chain, which included visits to processing facilities in Harbin and Inner Mongolia and dedicated red meat retail outlets.
"There was also the opportunity to taste traditional Chinese sheepmeat cuisine and visits to traditional wet markets, specialist red meat retail outlets and high end supermarkets in major cities."