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Outlook for Australian red meat industry ‘very good’: MLA

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
MLA productivity and animal wellbeing group manager David Beatty at the AAAC conference in Perth last Friday.
Camera IconMLA productivity and animal wellbeing group manager David Beatty at the AAAC conference in Perth last Friday. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

Australia’s multibillion-dollar red meat industry is on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 without compromising productivity or profitability, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

MLA productivity and animal well-being group manager David Beatty delivered the encouraging news at the Australian Association of Agricultural Consultants WA Outlook 2021 conference, held in Perth last Friday.

The ambitious CN30 target was set by industry, which has committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in beef, lamb and goat production, including lot feeding and meat processing, by 2030.

Dr Beatty said while meeting the target would be challenging, the industry was already ahead of the curve.

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“If industry can reduce the amount (of carbon) produced and store enough to offset the residual unavoidable emissions, it can get to net zero,” he said.

“The pathways to CN30 are multi-faceted and there will be no silver bullet, but there will be many tools in the toolbox for producers to be able to do their bit from both an emissions avoidance and carbon-capture perspective, whilst at the same time making sure productivity and profitability is maintained.

“By being efficient and more productive, you actually are reducing your carbon footprint, so we should be able to do it without impacting the profitability or productivity of the industry.”

Australia’s cattle herd is forecast to grow.
Camera IconAustralia’s cattle herd is forecast to grow. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

According to MLA, red meat and livestock currently contribute about 10 per cent of all of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions — a figure which has halved since 2005.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock industry have fallen by 56.7 per cent since 2005, and it now takes 68 per cent less water to produce a kilogram of beef.

Dr Beatty said the overall outlook for the industry was “very good”, with disruptions to exports caused by COVID-19 showing signs of recovery.

With the national cattle herd and sheep flock both in a rebuild phase, he said he was confident the industry would meet the growing international demand for Australian beef and sheepmeat.

“We export 70 per cent of our red meat and we’re very confident there’s that demand there going into the future,” Dr Beatty said.

“There’s enough people in the world who are prepared to pay for premium red meat products.”

He said Australia — which is the world’s largest exporter of chilled sheepmeat and the second largest exporter of chilled beef — had an unrivalled reputation for producing “safe, secure, clean and green” red meat.

By being efficient and more productive, you actually are reducing your carbon footprint, so we should be able to do it without impacting the profitability or productivity of the industry.

David Beatty

With demand for Australian lamb and mutton increasing in the US, Dr Beatty said the looming free trade agreement between Australia and the UK was also a promising development.

“Although it hasn’t been signed, the Australian-UK free trade agreement in principle has been agreed to,” he said.

“When the FTA comes into effect, which we’re hoping will be in the latter half of next year, our access tariff-free into the UK will move from 3700 tonnes (of beef) to over 35,000 tonnes.

“When you’ve got a high value market like that and you can flick a switch and get an increase in volume, it just demonstrates the demand and the value that’s there.

“From a sheepmeat perspective, it’s the same: we go from 13,300 to immediately 25,000, and then over 10 years we essentially get unrestricted access into the UK.”

Australia’s national sheep flock is on the rebound after dropping to just 64 million head last year — the lowest number on record — with a second year of improved weather conditions expected for key sheep growing regions.

MLA is forecasting further growth, and there are similar predictions for Australia’s beef herd.

“Coming off record lows caused by drought across much of Australia our expectations, based on seasonal conditions, are indicating significant growth in sheep and cattle numbers over the next few years,” Dr Beatty said.

“The demand is there, the supply remains tight, but obviously with the seasonal conditions all going well, we expect to see that supply being able to increase enough to match the global demand in the coming years.”

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