FROM the enormous attention being paid to reducing carbon footprint to the new doors opening in the wake of China tensions, one of the country's most experienced beef and lamb exporters provided fascinating insight into the current state of play in red meat processing at a recent industry webinar.
Tim Clarke is a sixth generation agribusiness professional who has for decades supplied beef and lamb from his own properties, and from other producers, to global markets.
He currently has farming interests and slaughters and exports F1 Wagyu and other beef breeds of cattle direct to international consumers and wholesalers.
He is also chief executive officer of MMG1829, a company involved in land and business acquisitions in abattoirs, shipping, quarantine fields, feed suppliers and livestock supply.
Mr Clarke was a guest speaker in the first of a webinar series developed by the Export Council of Australia in collaboration with Western Union Business Solutions.
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He said decarbonising the economy was front and centre in red meat processing, as it was on-farm.
Livestock was very much part of the global solution. It's the only activity that man undertakes where a direct byproduct is carbon sequestration, he said.
"The less your carbon footprint, the less your costs, so it's a sensible thing to do as well as the right thing," he said.
"In processing, we are undertaking enormous initiatives because obviously margins are tight and there is always a disconnect between the cattle price and processor returns. We are dictated to by international events and by currency settings.
"So to make money in tough times, and position ourselves for when times are better, we are doing a lot around sustainability."
In his operations, that has included recycling organic waste and turning it into compost, making tallow into green diesel to run generators, buying electricity from solar and wind generated sources and putting in their own solar farms, among other measures.
That work was yielding significant cost savings but there were other very valuable reasons for the sustainability focus, Mr Clarke explained.
"One of our emerging threats is the plant-based sector and that has generated unfair criticism on livestock industries around our footprint," he said.
"There is enormous misinformation about.
"If we demonstrate to our markets and customers all these things we are doing, it negates that criticism and it puts us in a strong position.
"We are targeting markets who might not necessarily pay us a premium but will certainly buy from us when the job is tough.
"We take carbon footprint very seriously. We're putting enormous amounts of effort into this."
On China tensions, Mr Clarke said exporters were 'being forced to look for other markets because of less-than-deft political management'.
The issue extended beyond Australia. Global politics were at play, he said.
Allies are taking our market.
"China is a massive consumer of global commodities and when China stops buying from Australia, it has to find another supplier.
"On high level beef, they've gone to the US, on the commodity side to South America.
"But where one one door closes, we look for others to open."
For Mr Clarke's business interests, that has been Indonesia, Vietnam and the United Kingdom.
The first two were running strongly at the moment, he said. Populations were becoming wealthier and were fast-growing.
"And now that Brexit has happened we are establishing some good partners in the UK. Once we understand properly the tariffs at play, I'd suggest this will become a bigger destination for Australian beef," he said.
Back on track
Prices for finished meat product out of Australia are actually historically high, Mr Clarke said.
Beef consumption is certainly back on track. The big swing away from food service to cooking at home that came on the back of the pandemic has played out well for the sector.
"People tend to eat more when they are at home. Kilograms per week consumed has increased," Mr Clarke said.
Shipping and airfreight had been, and continues to be, a major issue for exporters, he said.
"A lot of ports had to reduce staff numbers so clearance rates of containers per day slowed down and that caused enormous issues with the availability of containers around the world," Mr Clarke said.
"With airfreight, the Australian industry was very fortunate the Federal Government subsidised costs.
"Rates went from $3500 a palate out of Australia to as high as $14000.
"Anything from livestock to chilled meat flies out in the belly of passenger aircraft so the complete destruction of global air travel was certainly felt."
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