Top marks for lamb club

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian

Challenges facing the lamb industry were discussed at the More Sheep 100%+ Club producer awards event held last week in Osborne Park.

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA's initiative of the Sheep Industry Leadership Council brought producers and industry representatives together to welcome 14 new 100%+ Club grower members.

DAFWA acting executive director for livestock industries Bruce Mullan said the club supported sustainable growth of the sheep industry in WA.

"Membership requires producers to have a minimum flock of 500 ewes and marking lamb rates of at least 100 per cent in one season," he said.

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"Increased lamb production gives producers more options.

"Over the past year, the number of lambs and sheep processed increased by 25 per cent and 9 per cent respectively."

Dr Mullan said the department's Sheep Industry Business Innovation project was focused on building industry's capacity to supply new markets, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

He said while the WA flock remains at between 14 million and 15 million head, increased reproduction performance combined with higher market prices had seen lamb exports increase in value by 78 per cent to $200 million and mutton exports increase in value by 37 per cent to $124 million in 2013-14.

SILC committee member and Saudi Arabian importer John Edwards said that on the surface, current world demand for sheepmeat appeared to be growing rapidly and demand from existing and new markets was yet to be fully realised.

"Recent price and demand signals are hopefully here to stay," he said.

Mr Edwards said he would like to see Australia's live sheep trade flourish again, but under the current regulatory challenges - the Australian Government's Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System - overseas trade was stagnating.

"Proof of this is the continued loss of the Haj sheep supply contract in which WA was a prominent past supplier but now sources its 900,000 sheep and goats from North Africa," he said.

"Reduced marketing opportunities in the Middle East caused by ESCAS will have a negative effect on live export demand and returns to the farmgate," Mr Edwards said.

On the local front, Pan-o-rama Catering principal and renowned chef Don Hancey told the visitors there was a need for more dialogue between the lamb industry and WA's top chefs.

"This is becoming more important as consumers want to know where their food comes from," he said.

Mr Hancey said the dining experience now must tell a story of home-grown provenance.

Facey Country Lamb director Audrey Bird, who supplied Dorper lamb for the awards dinner, said it was important for her family's business to build on its brand.

"We are value-adding our paddock-to-plate product by maintaining supply chain control," she said.

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