Record demand for red meat

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
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Australia's red meat industry is facing the dilemma of building sustainable numbers as it contends with world population growth and increased demand for protein.

Industry leaders tackled some of the issues ahead at the University of WA Institute of Agriculture's red meat forum which attracted 200 people to UWA's club auditorium last week.

Meat and Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton said the protein boom in the past five years had seen record turnoff on top of severe drought on the eastern seaboard.

"The unprecedented turnoff and drought has reduced the Australian cattle herd to a 20-year low on our way to an eastern cattle indicator of 600 cents/kg," he said.

"On the world stage, the US herd is at a low not seen since 1951.

"We are hopeful for more stable prices, with the exception of a total meltdown in China, but there will not be a lot of inventory around."

Mr Norton said MLA's marketing strategies, including "You're better on beef" were convincing enough for consumers to afford higher prices.

"We are giving consumers an excuse to afford a protein hit with the important message that red meat is brain food in the form of iron and zinc.

Mr Norton said MLA in conjunction with the National Farmers' Federation had also been working on the True Aussie brand as a key to global markets.

"Higher prices at the supermarket will also be superseded by improved eating-quality standards."

Mr Norton said new developments in innovation would include turning subjective grading measurements into objective with the technology of Hyper SP imaging and x-rays.

"Images of carcases will instruct robots how to carve up a more consistent product," he said.

Borden cattle feedlotter Paul O'Meehan said survival of the industry was about being responsive to change.

"We must lift our game as the world gets hungry," he said.

"Asia respects protein, more so than we do, and we must offer our overseas clients consistency 12 months of the year."

Mr O'Meehan, who operates a 3300-head accredited feed yard and produces the Butterfield brand, said the WA beef industry lacked scale and critical mass.

"We lack innovation compared to the other major agriculture industries and producing beef has become expensive," he said.

On the sheep front it was local grower co-operative WAMMCO that supplied the relevant data with supply development manager Robert Davidson enthusiastic about the outlook for the industry.

Mr Davidson said all four major export countries critical to WAMMCO's success had increased orders of sheep product in the past five years.

"Australian sheep numbers have fallen to 71 million and it now exports 58 per cent of its sheep product with continuing demand from core markets - US, Middle East and China," he said.

Mr Davidson said the lower Australian dollar would assist market competitiveness as barriers to trade were lifted under the new Free Trade Agreements.

"Lamb needs to meet and surpass customer expectations whilst remaining affordable," he said.

Kojonup sheep producer and Sheep Industry Leadership Council chairman Rob Egerton-Warburton said WA's lower sheep numbers were not sustainable.

'Through genetic research, improved lambing percentages and leadership, we can build capacity and productivity," he said.

"The Merino industry must understand wool and meat must go hand in hand - we need to push both commodities' efficiencies and not stalemate over which is most important.

"Merino provides good eating quality and the promise of genetic advancement will lift the dual-purpose prospects of the industry."

University of New England professor Garry Griffith said the red meat industry must satisfy consumer requirements within a value chain context.

"Value chains have to choose which set of consumer demands/needs/priorities they are attempting to satisfy," he said.

"Success requires whole-of-chain co-ordination and investment."

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