Modern Merino praised for meat

Kate PollardCountryman

The future of the sheep meat industry - including Merinos - is bright, according to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) director Peter Trefort.

Speaking at the Kolindale field day at Dudinin last week, Mr Trefort told farmers the industry was in a good place and demand was strong for Australian product.

When prices for lamb reached $6 a kilogram, domestic consumers were scared off, but at $4.50 to $5/kg, it was realistic with a good return for producers.

The Middle East continues to be Australia's biggest export market, while the US has stabilised and Europeans are spending less on lamb.

With markets taking different sizes and cuts, Mr Trefort said the best lamb to sell was within the 18-24kg range.

Markets in the Middle East want 14-22kg lambs, while the US wants 24kg plus.

The downside to heavier weights was fat and it needed to be controlled, Mr Trefort said. He believes genetics are not there yet and the cost to remove fat is an impediment to the industry, with processors starting to penalise producers.

"Out of a 27kg carcase, you find you end up with about 14.5kg of saleable product," Mr Trefort said.

With the cost of putting fat on a carcase double that of meat, Mr Trefort said producers were better off marketing lambs when they got to the ideal weight and prices.

As genetics improve to help producers push through the weight gain, eating quality, which will soon have its own Australian Sheep Breeding Value, needs to be maintained.

"The most encouraging thing about the Merino is the eating quality is as good as any," Mr Trefort said.

"The Merino has as a fair amount of intramuscular fat that gives you the flavour and cooking ability."

Once a by-product of the wool industry, Mr Trefort said the modern Merino had the attributes needed by the sheep meat industry.

Despite some glitches with the Export Supply Chain Assurance System, Mr Trefort said it was the industry's security in the future allowing those complying to be supported.

He said the purchase of his abattoir, Hillside Meats, was also a bonus and would give the industry the opportunity to market every type of sheep that could be produced.

"Putting that all together, I think the future is bright," he said.

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