New abattoir on a beef roll

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Central Agri Group managing director John Berkefeld at the abattoir near Cataby, which will slaughter about 400 cows a day.
Camera IconCentral Agri Group managing director John Berkefeld at the abattoir near Cataby, which will slaughter about 400 cows a day. Credit: The West Australian

A new WA-based beef supplier has been set up, aiming to focus on the world's premium markets.

Carpenter Beef has sold the iconic Joanna Plains property at Cataby to new company Central Agri Group, which has only recently been incorporated.

Central Agri is backed by Esperance-based export lamb and beef abattoir Shark Lake Food Group and Australia's biggest Angus beef seedstock producer, Lawsons Angus.

The announcement comes after years of speculation regarding the future of the 8700ha property, where construction of a large-scale abattoir ground to a halt in 2007 in the wake of the collapse of owner Ric Stowe's empire.

With Central Agri's multimillion cash injection, the property will boast a 400-head-a-day European standard abattoir.

It is an attractive time in the beef economic cycle, with world prices continuing to boom.

Carpenter Beef general manager John Berkefeld will head the new group, which will be a one-stop-shop for the supply of Angus and Wagyu brands into global markets.

The combination of an integrated seedstock and breeding company will secure supply for the new company's export programs.

The Joanna Plains farm will continue to be used as a custom feedlot for northern producers as well as a facility for finishing cattle to be slaughtered at Shark Lake.

A 10,000 head backgrounding facility on the farm will be expanded to include the research centre and bull unit and complete the partially built abattoir by early next year.

"Our integration into Central Agri Group will enable us to expand the business significantly and better serve Lawsons Angus customers in WA and on the east coast," Mr Berkefeld said.

"This is a great result for Carpenter Beef and agriculture in general because our Japanese customers are looking to increase the volume of high quality grain-fed Angus."

Genetics focus will be the point of difference.

The new Joanna Plains facility will give extra value to its supply chain stakeholders.

The facility will feature feedlots and prime grazing land and plans are also under way to incorporate a world-leading research centre and Angus bull unit to offer partner breeders sophisticated genetic information on potential sires.

Central Agri director Harry Lawson, from Lawson's Angus, is a highly regarded authority on breed genetics and will be responsible for heading up the research and genetics programs at the new facility.

Mr Lawson said with the company delivering disciplined and accurate genetic information to its partner breeders, everybody in the supply chain will get a share of the extra value it will generate.

In a company feed conversion trial, the Angus breed converted at 3.9kg DM per kilogram of liveweight gain on a starter ration, compared to an average feedlot conversion of 4.6kg DM/kg of liveweight gain on a finisher ration.

The American principled breed genetics facilitated outstanding Angus feed conversion compared with other breed cattle and was up to 20 per cent better than the average across the feedlot.

"In WA where Joanna Plains fits in, we want to build a feed efficiency testing unit, which will record individual intake for bulls and average daily gain and feed efficiency information and, at the same time, we also want to continue to research the genomics," Mr Lawson said.

"The next generations of geneticists have almost skipped the basics and they want to go straight to the genomics side of things.

"But someone still needs to do the validation of those prediction models. So, where we see Joanna is where we could develop wiener bulls and put them out on their pasture groups.

"We want to run large numbers of cows through intensive grazing at Esperance and the bulls could go to Joanna Plains to be developed from a roughage diet to then go out on grass in the winter and then back on the feedlot over summer."

Mr Lawson said the bull unit would be an extension of the breeding program on the property. "We want to performance record the bulls feed intakes and growth rates, to complete the data for when we sell them," he said.

Mr Lawson said the new company's commitment to genetic disciplines would set them apart.

"For a long time our company has recognised the value of genetics and the consistency in producing a high quality product for our Japanese customers who want … the same eating quality every time," he said.

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